Credit: Griffin Lotz
by Paul Attard Music What Would Meek Do?

Pop Smoke | Faith

August 17, 2021

Faith’s attempt at a post-mortem celebration of Pop Smoke’s artistry is undermined by the record’s structural incoherence and arbitrary collabs.

When was the first time you heard Canarsie rapper Pop Smoke’s hulking, husky battle cry of a voice? It was probably over the grimy “Welcome to the Party,” sounding invincible, its timbre and cadence declaring its presence immediately. Or maybe it was on the JackBoys compilation album closer “Gotti,” where it was equally spartan — and also like he’d hastily smoked five cartons of Marlboros right before recording. Either way, it probably left an impression and for good reason: listening to Pop Smoke rap was like bearing witness to this unstoppable force taking shape and form, a true once-in-a-lifetime talent who was taken far too soon. But ever since his death in early 2020, his voice has played with more regular consistency: You’ve heard it on high profile hip-hop releases from this year by the likes of Polo G and the Migos, where each artist strayed from their comfort zones production-wise in order to show their respect; you’ve heard it copied and bastardized by any number of Woo wannabes who want to fill the void with some of the most derivative sounds the Brooklyn drill scene has to offer; and you’ve heard it most prominently on his own posthumous albums, star-studded affairs that largely consist of people who — if we’re being completely honest — had no idea who Pop Smoke was two years ago. Faith, the second of these posthumous projects following last year’s Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon, certainly builds on that latter position: Of the 21 guests who have been assembled, Lil Tjay and Quavo are the only ones who had worked with Pop before his death. 

There are others who make natural sense for post-mortem collaboration — like 21 Savage on “Bout a Million” flexing about spending “money ridiculously” over the acoustic guitar-infused beat — but most make for awkward combinations that feel more interested in commercial viability than legacy maintenance, especially on the record’s stagnant second half. The sentiment is best encapsulated by the painful three-track trek of hearing a forced Chris Brown on “Woo Baby,” to Dua Lipa on the Future Nostalgia B-Side “Demeanor,” and ending with a goofy Pharrell on the pop-saccharine “Spoiled.” These are all sounds and styles Pop had signaled towards on past releases, but the remaining snippets and outtakes of his that haven’t already been recycled certainly don’t point in those directions. These aren’t scraps being used and sold as whole pieces, these are scraps of scraps being peddled as entire songs (“Beat the Speaker” and “Coupe”); one even gets the distressing sense that after this album, the Pop Smoke well might be tapped completely dry. Because of this, it’s the features who are relied upon to do the heavy lifting and fill the space in between: Bizzy Banks is practically running the show on “30,” and the Kanye-throwaway “Tell the Vision” requires two different audible digressions and a bored Pusha-T to pad out the runtime. These songs are so reliant on this outsider star-power to operate that it makes things feel arbitrary after a while, as if everyone who’s associated is doing so out of good will, with the heads at Republic wanting to cast the widest net possible. 

This, all told, is perhaps Faith’s biggest failing on a base concept level: that Pop Smoke, who was a unique individual with an iconic voice — and who was tied with a specific regional music genre and movement — is now just any other dude who spits along to any type of popular production. The always sinister Pharell strikes again on this front, here with three weak producer credits under The Neptunes’ banner, including a bizarre dance-hall attempt that reconstructed the original drill beat for “Top Shotta” in a move that feels like it was ordered by an algorithm. It aims to sound triumphant, but is so structurally incoherent that, between original intention and emended execution, it comes off as a mess, a stitched-together anthem that’s neither exciting nor enjoyable — which might be the most accurate description of the indecisive Faith that one can muster.

Published as part of Album Roundup — July 2021 | Part 2.