‘Faith’ Is Not A Pop Smoke Album.

Faith has Pop’s face on the cover. Faith has Pop’s vocals on every track. Faith has Pop’s legal name all up and through the writing credits. And yet, Faith is not a Pop Smoke album. Faith, the second posthumous album from the late Brooklyn juggernaut, is actually a dreary collection of songs from Pop’s vault curated and finished by everyone but him. Pop Smoke’s debut album, Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon, may have unfortunately doubled as his first posthumous album, but at least that record was guided by some amount of Pop’s vision. Faith, created completely independent of any of Pop’s input (for obvious reasons), feels strikingly empty. It’s a lackluster and disjointed affair that seeks to provide closure where there isn’t necessarily a need for it.

As bittersweet as it was (and still is), Shoot for the Stars was the perfect end to Pop’s story as an active musician. I say, “active musician,” because Pop’s energy and older music are still setting trends, inspiring his peers across genres, and proving to be ahead of their time. Even the deluxe version of Shoot for the Stars wasn’t truly needed. Ending the album with the poignant “Got It On Me” into an encore of his biggest hit (“Dior”) was a smart and hauntingly beautiful moment of closure. Nevertheless, the deluxe version of Pop’s debut gifted us the superior version of “Enjoy Yourself” (thank you, Burna Boy) and anthems like the A Boogie-assisted “Hello,” so you can’t be too mad at it. As for Faith, however, this is an album that was clearly created to continue profiting off of Pop’s name while the block is still hot. The songs here are mostly overgrown hooks and unfinished verses that are rounded out by a staggering array of artists: Kanye West, Pusha-T, Rick Ross, The-Dream, Dua Lipa, Pharrell Williams, Chris Brown, 21 Savage, Kid Cudi, 42 Dugg, Takeoff, Rah Swish, BEAM, TRAVI, Bizzy Banks, Lil Tjay, Swae Lee, Future, Kodak Black, and Quavo.

Before we get into the musicality of Faith, let’s just establish the innate weirdness of posthumous releases. If the artist was involved during the final moments of their lives and their vision for the record was clearly communicated to their collaborators, a posthumous album makes sense. Digging through a vault of unfinished songs and pulling an album together without any input from the artist is bizarre. We’ve been desensitized to this because of the countless posthumous albums over the decades, but, in theory, and in practice, posthumous albums are weird. We do not own these artists. These artists do not owe us anything, especially in death. As fans, the highest level of respect we can give an artist is to cherish and appreciate their official work. The fact of the matter is that Pop was not here to clear these songs, the sequencing of the album, the mix of the songs, the artists featured, etc. It feels sacrilegious to listen to Faith and blasphemous to present this under the name of a man who was taken from us far too soon.

Victor Victor / Republic

Faith opens with the “Welcome to the Party” instrumental. Over the brooding drill beat, Pop’s mother, Audrey Jackson, speaks about the meaning of Pop’s real name (“Bashar means ‘bringer of good news'”) and exalts her son and his vision. It’s a harrowing moment for many reasons. For one, this intro reminds us that “Welcome to the Party” ruled the world just two years ago. Now, more than ever, the concept of time has proven itself to be flimsy at best. Nevertheless, hearing that iconic instrumental evokes memories and feelings that even the most emotional ballads could not. In addition, there’s something incredibly somber and devastating about hearing a parent talk about their deceased child. Ms. Jackson’s love and support for her son could be felt in every word she spoke. Nothing on Faith comes close to “Good News.” Nothing. The rest of the album struggles to recreate the magic of Shoot for the Stars‘ biggest songs. Scores of collaborators crowd the album with drab contributions to songs that are already very predictable in terms of production. In the words of Pop himself, “I don’t fuck with niggas. If you notice, why I don’t do songs with niggas… my tape ain’t have nobody on it cause I don’t fuck with niggas. I don’t like niggas.” The two mixtapes Pop released before he passed, Meet The Woo and Meet The Woo 2, have a combined total of seven collaborations. Faith alone features 21 artists. The “powers that be” have cluttered this album with artists that never acknowledged Pop before his death and artists that he probably wouldn’t have collaborated with given that quote.

Faith’s lead single, “Demeanor,” features none other than Dua Lipa. Currently being pushed to rhythmic contemporary radio, the song is Pop’s most pop-leaning song yet. “Demeanor” sits somewhere between the 80s synth-pop wave that took over mainstream pop last year and Pop’s own menacing drill sweet spot. After a few listens, the song makes sense, but Dua simply can’t match Pop’s energy on this record. “Demeanor” has actually been floating around for a minute now. Pop originally posted a snippet of the song on Instagram Stories with a caption that outlined his wishes for Bruno Mars to hop on the track. To the surprise of no one, Pop was right about his own record. Bruno Mars or The Weeknd would have been much better fitted for the sultry track. Dua was likely chosen because of her recent Top 40 radio and streaming dominance (the track also fits right in with her Future Nostalgia aesthetic), but it falls flat because it doesn’t sound natural. None of these collaborations really sound natural whether they were completed before or after Pop’s passing. “Demeanor” is actually pretty interesting because Pop already proved his ability to rule Top 40 on two unassisted tracks on Shoot for the Stars: “What You Know Bout Love” and “Something Special.” From sampling Ariana Grande’s “7 rings” on “Mannequin” to collaborating with H.E.R. and having a new song rule TikTok every 3-5 business days, Pop Smoke was already pop music and pop culture before being forced to blatantly pander for a “crossover” hit beyond the grave.

The other collaborations on Faith are utterly forgettable. 21 Savage delivers a strong verse on “Bout A Million,” as does Takeoff on “What’s Crackin.” The best collaborations, however, are the ones with fellow Brooklyn artists. Rah Swish on “Brush Em” and Bizzy Banks on “30” are the best moments of the album. Not everybody can do drill or match Pop’s energy. Pop’s voice captures a very specific current of energy that is intrinsically Brooklyn. The growl of Pop’s voice and his ferocious delivery capture the energy that was able to turn a track like “Dior” into a very specific protest song against NYPD during Summer 2020. Moreover, Pop’s cadence exudes a cool confidence that is coupled with a seductive smirk. The energy of Pop Smoke record is truly once in a generation, and not everyone can handle that. Too often on Faith, non-New York collaborators try and fail to mimic Pop’s energy or simply come on to the track with the wrong vibe. 42 Dugg sounds like his verse ended up on the wrong project, and everything about Pharrell on “Spoiled” is a little… questionable. Then there are the artists that feel like a waste of space like Chris Brown on “Woo Baby”; you can basically sing “Heat” over his parts of the song. Nevertheless, there are some bright spots on Faith. On “Top Shotta” we get to hear glimpses of what a Pop Smoke gun chune would sound like, and on “8-Ball,” Pop and Cudi reunite for a bluesy track that could soundtrack a modern-day Western. As unfortunate as it is, we have to address that some of the musical issues with Faith technically lie with Pop — but it’s really not his fault.

The paradox of a second posthumous album is that a “sophomore” album should show some growth from the debut, but a posthumous album doesn’t really allow for that. Pop was a prolific creator but because of how short his life was cut, he never really got a chance to grow as a rapper, writer, or artist in general. There are only so many times you can hear a variation of “ass like jello,” “get right baby/get right mama,” or “light-skinned and tatted” before it becomes redundant and predictable. So, what we’re left with is a bunch of songs from the same recording sessions of Pop’s previous releases except less polished and with none of Pop’s guidance or vision. Faith is not a good album. It feels really weird to say that because Pop is dead, but the album is a disappointment. What are the ethics of calling posthumously released art “bad?” Is it okay to pan an album released under the name of someone who passed? Let alone someone who passed so recently? I’m not sure, but it’s definitely not a preferable situation to be in. Shoot for the Stars was the closure Pop deserved; Faith is a cheap payday masquerading as a closure. Thankfully, this won’t be too big of a blemish on Pop’s legacy, but it does serve as a reminder that maybe we should let these artists rest peacefully. The smoke was never going to clear, we didn’t need Faith to confirm that.

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