By Alexandra Quintero
Amazing artists often get taken away from the world too soon. They leave countless unfinished projects, rejected beats, and possible hits. There has been an unresolved debate as to whether or not an artist’s work should be released upon their passing.
In February, 20-year-old rap artist Bashar Barakah Jackson, more famously known as Pop Smoke, was shot and killed in a home-invasion robbery in Beverly Hills, California. Pop Smoke was a rising star from Brooklyn, New York, and was killed only 12 days before the release of his newest mixtape.
On July 3, his label, Republic Records, released his posthumous album: Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon with features from major artists such as Quavo, 50 Cent, DaBaby, Swae Lee, Lil Baby and more. The album debuted at number one not just in the United States Billboard 200, becoming the first hip hop artist in history to have a number one posthumous debut album, but was number one in several other countries as well.
“What You Know Bout Love”, “Something Special”, and “Mood Swings” were just a few of the songs that became overwhelmingly popular among Tik Tok users. People were and still are creating, hundreds of thousands of videos using Pop Smoke’s music in the background.
Most well-known for his deep and gravelly voice, Shoot for the Stars featured songs like “44 BullDog” where he utilizes a menacing tone that his fans loved from previous albums. He was very New York and that was shown via his sound and the lyrics of his songs. In this song which was named after the handgun, he makes references to New York nightlife, luxury brands, and Riker’s Island.
The album also showcases both rapping and singing, which not many artists do. Pop Smoke skillfully switches from rap hits like “Gangstas” to more melodic and romantic songs like “Diana” and “Enjoy Yourself.” The latter songs are especially interesting because they are “gangster” love songs that emulate what 50 Cent did in the early 2000s.
A tribute to who he was and where he came from, “Make It Rain” paid homage to Pop’s roots as a New Yorker as it featured rapper Rowdy Rebel, who is also from Brooklyn. It was also important to black New Yorkers and non-New Yorkers alike who identified with his music and used it to get through the Black Lives Matter protests going on everywhere. This track was released on Friday, June 12th before the release of the rest of the album.
“Music is the tool of revolution. We have been watching, along with the rest of the world, as long overdue change starts to take root. We have seen Pop’s music become the soundtrack of the moment, unifying the masses…Given recent events, we have decided to delay the release of his album out of respect for the movement,” said Pop’s manager in an Instagram Post on June 10.
What truly makes this album stand out was the feeling that it evokes in the listener. Pop Smoke was clearly young and ambitious. “I be in New York with the gangsters…Know a n*gga that’ll shoot you for a ‘Tander…If my opps is chillin’ in the foreign…Then my n*ggas shootin’ up the Phantom,” says Pop in a track called “Gangsters”. He states that if he sees members of opposing gangs then he’ll have his gang shoot at their car.
It is clear through lyrics like this, that he would have done whatever it took to get to the top even as young as he was. While unfortunately he was taken from the world much too soon, he still has risen to the very top just as he had wanted. His legacy will forever be cemented into society.
Finally, bringing about sadness and nostalgia, Shoot for the Stars also features “Dior” as a bonus track. “Dior” was originally released on his 2019 mixtape, Welcome to the Party and was in the top 40 for 14 weeks in a row and even became more popular after his death.
The biggest issue that fans and critics had with the album, aside from the never-ending debate surrounding posthumous albums, was that while Shoot for the Stars and Aim for the Moon had countless features, Pop Smoke’s debut mixtape, Meet the Woo, had no features at all.
This goes back to the idea of whether or not posthumous albums are ethical: Would the artist have wanted the album to be done the way that it was? Can the artist’s voice really be heard when they are no longer making the decisions? These are questions that will continue to be wrestled with when artists pass away and record labels ultimately have the rights to everything the artist did.
Pop Smoke’s Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon was overall incredibly well received by fans, especially after the loss of LA superstar Kobe Bryant just a few weeks before. People felt that having an amazing, young, Black artist taken away right after an iconic Black athlete was too much for society to handle. While someone else aside from the artist always stands to benefit from the release of posthumous albums, Pop Smoke’s posthumous album helped fans feel closer to him in the wake of his death.