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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 9, 2020   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Review: Late artist travels the world in drill album

Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon

Republic Records

On July 3, Republic Records released the posthumous album of late Brooklyn-born rapper Bashar Jackson, also known as Pop Smoke. In “Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon,” Jackson incorporated sounds of Chicago, London, and Brooklyn drill to create something much bigger than the sum of its parts. Jackson sounds convincing and confident over an array of beats, and on “Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon,” he never deviates far from the formula that made him a star in the first place. 

Drill music is characterized by atmospheric, dark beats with forcefully rapped lyrics. This style was prominent in his two well-received “Meet the Woo” mixtapes. Jackson’s rise in the rap world had been meteoric, securing features from Travis Scott, Quavo, Nicki Minaj and many more figures in rap royalty. Jackson’s appeal had also been evident. He had a deep, baritone growl that could carry a song on its own. 

Strong production and stellar guest verses create a more refined project in comparison to his mixtapes, but the tracklist is still centered around showcasing the massive potential Jackson had. “Aim for the Moon” sees Pop Smoke and Quavo trading braggadocious bars over a murky, moving trap instrumental. Quavo also makes two other spectacular performances on the tracks “West Coast S–t” and “Snitchin.” 

Another standout in the tracklist is the Swae Lee assisted “Creature,” a song that is one of Smoke’s best crafted songs to date. Jackson even manages to work in a feature from his self-proclaimed mentor, 50 Cent, on “The Woo.” Smoke’s ability to weave in such a star-studded cast into his repertoire allows the album to flow extremely well. Many drill artists have styles that other rappers struggle to fit in with, but Jackson’s curatorial vision lifted him above many of his contemporaries. 

Many of the beats on the album are handled by London producer 808Melo, and, as a result, United Kingdom drill influences can be heard all over the album. UK drill conveys violent messages, as well as hard hitting flows and an abundance of percussion. An easy way to stand out in hip-hop is to have an original sound, and Jackson brought his magnificent and distinctive sound to his album. 

Jackson also shows that he had massive pop-crossover goals musical aspirations. However, these tracks sound incomplete and less refined than the more trap-heavy songs in the first half of the record. “What You Know about Love,” “Mood Swings” and “Diana” all feature awkward, cringe-worthy hooks and beats that feel off-putting. Jackson’s style worked much more effectively when provided with a cold-blooded, club-ready beat that he can growl over.

It’s truly a tragedy that Jackson will never have the chance to grow his music and career. “Shoot For the Stars Aim for the Moon,” like any other posthumous release, is both a tribute to and reminder of what could have been. It’s hard not to picture the success Jackson would have garnered following this album. While this album is not the work of a seasoned artist, it is that of a young rapper who was still trying to find his voice and comfort zone in music.