For the life of me, I still cannot understand how modern society considers anyone an adult at the age of 18. Sure, at that age, your awareness of the world is growing, but for the most part, anyone in their teens still has more of the seemingly boundless energy of youth than the hard-won patience and wisdom of experience. I suspect it’s because of that energy, at least in part.
By that time, the adults in your life — parents, teachers, coaches, mentors — have been dealing with you for long enough that they’re just plain exhausted. At that point, they’ve decided they’re tired of trying to keep up with you and it’s high time you keep up with yourself. Of course, the drawback to that approach is a lot of fumbling to find behaviors, habits, patterns, and thoughts that allow you to focus that energy toward creating the semblance of a constructive existence. And it’s hard. It’s just about the hardest thing there is.
Lil Pump’s debut album, Harverd Dropout, is a microcosm of this principle. There’s so much energy. There’s a light veneer of polish, that promise of maturity. It’s almost too easy to forget you’re listening to the product of an 18-year-old mind whose primary concerns are still convincing his peers that he’s cool by wearing the right brand clothes, getting girls, and trying his best to imitate the patterns of adulthood that have been modeled for him, while rebelling against boundaries in a wordless, furtive effort to create his own identity separate from those constraints.
But, because he is an 18-year-old with an abundance of energy and no real worldview or strategy to apply it to, what you end up with is 15 songs of just that energy and little else. His personality is fun and charismatic, the beats are thumping and effervescent, but Pump doesn’t have much to say or the tools to say it yet; despite the promise in the polish, all that unfocused energy just winds up being exhausting.
It’s ironic that one of his many juvenile efforts to attract attention and impress his peers with showy acts of machismo was positioning himself as a sort-of anti-J. Cole, because Harverd Dropout feels almost like he wanted to make the exact opposite of KOD. Where Cole’s efforts are nearly universally nitpicked by his critics for being low-key, overly preachy affairs, Dropout is Pump turned up to 11 on every track, acting out exaggerated celebrations of all the addictions Cole denounces on KOD.
A track titled “Drug Addicts” is almost too on-the-nose to be taken seriously. If J. Cole cautions against the excesses of pills and lean, Lil Pump gleefully promotes their abuse on nearly every track — this despite kicking the habit himself during the recording of his debut. He jokes on “Off White” that “Ever since I started sippin’ lean, I lost my six-pack,” when as recently as last December, he was tossing bottles of cough syrup in the river. His burgeoning self-awareness in real life is almost completely at odds with the persona he cultivates in his music.
Even on the song “Drop Out,” which sets off the collection, he includes an outro reminding listeners “By the way kids, stay in school.” The whole Harverd Dropout concept seems to be a nod to this paradoxical state of being. He’s the straight-A student who pranks the teacher by drawing dicks on the chalkboard before class. His music, produced mainly by newcomers like Baby Winsch and Danny Wolf, save for some high-profile appearances from Kanye West and Ronny J, begins to feel like nails on that chalkboard after a while. Each song is fine on its own as an exuberant outburst of teenage rebellion but stacked on top of each other back-to-back, they ring hollow. He wants to convince us he’s this balls-to-the-wall rebel, but he’s really Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club — he just wants to be loved, but right now, he’s mistaken attention for affection.
With role models like Kanye, Offset, Quavo, and Lil Wayne, it’s unlikely that he’ll have anything to prompt him to mature his subject matter very much, however, he will learn to polish his product. He’ll learn to slow down, to switch up his tempo, to sprinkle in introspection and inflection and variation to keep things fresh and actually build out his bare-bones rap persona, which does show flashes of technical flair and a desire to get better. He will get better and fortunately for him, he doesn’t have to rush. He’s young. He’s got plenty of time to grow up.
Harverd Dropout is out now via Warner Bros. Records. Get it here.
Lil Pump is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.