50 Cent Should Have Made Pop Smoke’s Final Album More Of A Brooklyn Affair

When Pop Smoke was tragically murdered in February, 50 Cent vowed to take over creative control of his Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon album, which dropped last Friday. 50 sought out high-profile names like Drake and Post Malone to appear on the project. But the native New Yorker’s star-studded search caused him to miss out on the most sensible guests for the project — Pop’s fellow Brooklynites.

The 20-year-old Canarsie, Brooklyn native was the face of the Brooklyn drill scene. Like Chief Keef, the golden child of Chicago drill, he had a sonic versatility and inimitable charisma that was ripe for mass appeal. Unlike Chief Keef, he seemed poised to play the industry game and make the necessary moves to become as commercially viable as possible. The sonic ambition he shows on Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon tracks like “The Woo” and “Yea Yea” demonstrate that he was capable of molding Brooklyn drill’s trademark elements into a more palatable package to become a Billboard mainstay.

If any artist was going to bust open the industry door and stimulate opportunities for the rest of the scene, it was going to be Pop. But unfortunately, he didn’t get that chance. Even still, the album was a prime opportunity to showcase acts like Fivio Foreign, Sheff G, Rah Swish, and others who he had shouted out and collaborated with in the past. Fivio has said that the deluxe version of the album is “gonna be crazy,” implying that he and other drill artists may be on the redux — but for now, the project has a mixed reception among New Yorkers.

Fans were all for hearing new Pop Smoke — but not necessarily here for the industry stunt features. Quavo shows up on the 18-track project a whopping three times. DaBaby’s verse on “For One Night” is a hair offbeat, a clumsy miscue characteristic of stitched-together posthumous albums. Tyga’s appearance on “West Coast Sh*t” reeks of “sure, why not.” Meanwhile, the most confusing feature may be Diddy’s son King Combs on “Diana.” He delivers a remarkably average verse in a slot that could have gone to any number of Brooklyn artists. Pop’s family probably appreciates the high-powered appearances, but so many listeners critiqued that they weren’t necessary, and Pop’s solo tracks were the highlight of the album. If Pop’s Brooklyn drill peers were on the project, it could have been a smoother front-to-back listen.

Last Friday, 50 spoke to Ebro Darden on Apple Music’s Rap Life show. He saluted the Brooklyn drill scene, noting, “The thing that’s really interesting about Brooklyn is they’re actually marketing each other.” But he also added, “If they can figure out how to not kill each other in the process and stay focused on what they actually want to do, this is our music.”

His comments were thoughtlessly reductive, as if the factors that lead to gun violence are a mystery. Gang violence is a symptom of an underserved community and a lack of opportunity. His dissonance to “own” the scene as New York culture but also finger wag its artists — when he could help provide opportunity — reflects the selective apathy of so many other figments in the lives of these young rappers.

It’s difficult for a drill rapper not to feel trapped. Every iteration of the movement, from Chicago, to UK, to Toronto, and now Brooklyn, is plagued by the gang violence that seems to be the cornerstone of so many of its songs. The scenes sprout up with a wave of excitement and fizzle out as violence and the carceral state claim artists one-by-one.

But despite the peril they reflect in their lyrics, seemingly every institution uses their raw honesty as a reason to fear and shun them. The cops target them and prevent them from performing at venues (Pop became a star without performing a single show in his hometown). As Lil Durk once rapped, “I can’t do no shows, cause I terrify my city” on “Dis Ain’t What U Want,” reflecting how the Chicago Police Department and city officials treat their scene. Local arts communities ignore them, though they often reflect the pulse of their cities. The industry siphons their energy then backs away from them, scared off by their perceived “lack of focus.” And rival gang members look to tear them down before they ever get that clarity.

That’s why 50 using Pop’s album to highlight more Brooklyn artists could flipped the script on everyone who wants drill artists to disappear. Pop reportedly did his first verse during a Jay Gwuapo studio session when Gwuapo got too intoxicated to record — but he’s not on the album. Rah Swish is a previous Pop collaborator who has been paying heavy homage to Pop since he passed, and he’s not on the album. Sheff G and Sleepy Hallow are two artists who’ve been buzzing for several years and could have had breakout moments on the album. As much as fans on Twitter celebrate Bobby Shmurda, Rowdy Rebel, and the GS9 movement, how many of them realize that Rowdy’s brother Fetty Luciano is a recording artist who would appreciate some residual love? All of these artists could’ve invigorated the album with that authentic Brooklyn energy that made Pop a hometown hero.

PG County’s IDK spoke for many young people when he called 50 Cent a “superhero” like figure. 50’s against-all-odds story and brutish demeanor have given him almost universal respect among young New Yorkers, making him one of the few industry figures that could potentially reach young drill artists. He already recalled that Pop literally took phone notes as 50 gave him game. 50 recalled brokering a 2007 record deal for Maino with Atlantic Records when the industry was apprehensive about dealing with an artist of Maino’s street-certified reputation. He could have a similar impact for young New York artists that the industry is wary of.

So many young people join gangs because they’re overlooked in their community. It’s a shame for them to continue to get overlooked when they try to be productive as musicians. Hopefully, 50 is planning a complete overhaul for the deluxe album a la Lil Uzi Vert’s LUV Vs. The World 2. But for the time being, the lack of Brooklyn drill artists on Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon was a missed opportunity.

Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.