Review: Pop Smoke, ‘Faith’

The late rapper’s second studio album is another posthumous experiment, forged to unrecognisable heights.

Unreleased music always poises a conundrum for record labels. Especially in the case of hip hop artists who pass away. In the late Pop Smoke’s case, the posthumous material was immediate. His debut album, Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon, was released five months after his second mixtape, Meet the Woo 2. Under the curation of 50 Cent, Shoot for the Stars ended up a superb farewell project, expanding the drill realm to affirmed R&B crossovers and granting multiple chart hits. Faith arrives twelve months after Shoot for the Stars, with vastly different results.

Faith takes every opportunity to exploit any Pop Smoke vocals in the vault, delivering half-baked songs with a dozen uninvited features.

For a 20-track album, Faith only lasts for 56 minutes. This says the whole story before even pressing play. Shoot for the Stars, even if finished posthumously, granted 3-minute songs that sounded complete. Faith inserts songs that struggle to reach the 2 minute mark, and if they do it is courtesy of incessant features to pad out the runtime. Pop Smoke provides a verse and a hook for most tracks, rarely stretching his contribution beyond this. For an artist rumoured to have 400 unreleased songs, it is more appropriate to assume it is 400 unfinished songs, eighteen of which make it on to Faith.

Faith has more features than it has sense. A star-studded line-up of 21 features is enlisted, which includes but isn’t limited to; Kanye West, Pusha T, 21 Savage, Rick Ross, The Neptunes, Kid Cudi, Future, Chris Brown, Dua Lipa and Migos. It plays the industry game of attracting listeners with its guestlist, people that Pop Smoke was never rumoured to be working with before his death. Take Kanye West on “Tell the Vision”, a song that was originally recorded for West’s DONDA album before being given to the handlers of Pop Smoke. Just like “Tell the Vision”, other songs on Faith are shopped around to make an album that is certainly not worthy of an authentic release.

The curation of the record is inauthentic, and so is the sound. Pop Smoke’s signature drill production is absent from Faith aside six songs, two of which are the best songs on the album (“Brush Em”, “30”). It is no wonder this is the case when key figures have openly expressed their distance from the album’s creation. 808Melo and Pop Smoke’s close friend, Mike Dee, clarified their lack of involvement, with the former only landing two beats after producing the majority of Smoke’s previous material. Cheap trap production from producers Pop Smoke has never worked with before are put in their place. It erases all the unique aspects of Pop Smoke’s music, leaving no stunners or potential hits in its wake.

The few memorable moments serve as a brief saving grace. Drill thumper “Brush Em” is Pop Smoke in his natural element, a track that sounds finely plucked from the debut mixtape era. The song “30” with Bizzy Banks grants similar energy, and “Woo Baby” with Chris Brown mimics the gratifying R&B swoons that were on Shoot for the Stars. “Beat the Speaker” grants the other 808Melo credit, feeling like one of the few songs on the tracklist that felt organically completed, and “Bout a Million” is one of the only cases of the guest appearances complimenting the track.

When these songs are done, Faith leaves nothing else to vindicate Pop Smoke’s legacy. It is a plastic release that continues the industry habit of exploiting unfinished music from late artists. If there is faith to be found anywhere, it is with Pop Smoke’s earlier projects.

4 / 10

Best tracks: “Brush Em”, “Woo Baby”, “30”