Words by: Andrea Susarrey
Faith, Pop Smoke’s Second Posthumous album, was dropped Friday, July 16th.
At only 20 years old, Pop Smoke was already well on his way to heights of fame in his career that few artists ever reach. Having barely gotten a taste of the life of a mega rap star he was unfortunately shot and killed in his Los Angeles home in February of 2020. Pop Smoke’s fame only grew after his death. It wasn’t a complete Van Gogh scenario, he did see that his music was making huge waves in the last couple of years of his life. But alas, his speedy rise to the top and unexpected death only increased traction to the rapper’s deep gritty voice growling on the UK-turned-Brooklyn Drill beats.
About 5 months after he passed, his first posthumous album, Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon, was released. Pop had been working on it and his label and executive producer (50 Cent) attested that the album was about 80% completed. They felt that it was only right to complete work on the project and release it in his honour. It was his first full studio album he had worked on after having released a few mixtapes that immortalised his status as a star. He was part of the process on the album, he worked on the direction and vision of it, it only made sense to finish tying the knots of the young artist taken too soon.
A year later and Faith has dropped. Another posthumous album. The label that released it said that he had so many unreleased songs that they were able to put this album together. With over 20 features across the 20 song album including huge artists including Kanye West, Pharrell, Quavo, Dua Lipa and more, it almost sounds more like Pop Smoke is featuring on the album – only Faith is his album.
Posthumous albums are at best the use of the deceased artist’s work by those alive, hoping, but more so assuming that the artist would have arranged or released their work in a similar fashion. That is at best. At worst it would be something more along the lines of releasing it because you can? Just because there is enough recorded material and songs that are unreleased, does that mean they should be released? And should they then be packaged as an album?
This raises the obvious question of if it’s ethical to release a posthumous album of any artist under their name if they weren’t really a part of that album process. For Pop Smoke, Faith is a project which he had no idea would ever come together and did not partake in creating it as a realized project. There’s even been a video circulating around the internet of a Pop Smoke where he is expressing that he didn’t like having other people on his music further putting things into question.
Faith is an album that’s already received a lot of attention and will almost certainly be continuously playing basically everywhere. Hopefully, this phenomenon of the seemingly casual releasing of albums on behalf of artists that have passed can function as a reminder of the complexities of existing in a time like today. What does it mean to be when our presence is reproduced where our physical body isn’t? And what does it mean when our art can continue to still be ‘created’ with our essence even past our death?
There is a void in which our basic moral values don’t reach over to the pop and mainstream world in which we consume from, and I mean basic. I don’t have an explanation for this based on theory only my observations. I have noticed a leniency towards the institutions and individuals that are seen as leaders who are often the point of reference for what we deem as acceptable. This is even in cases where we’d hope basic human instinct would speak to them and take the lead to guide them to let the dead simply rest in peace.
We’ll never fully know Pop Smoke‘s intentions, or if he would have even backed Faith, and that might just be a simple ethical argument. Regardless, we can’t change the fact that Faith exists, and as consumers, we should take on the opportunity to see this reality from a critical perspective. I’m afraid that if not, we risk not only disrespecting the dead but devaluing the time that people are alive for.
Pop Smoke had an incredibly original sound in a not-so-original generation of Rap, and I’m sure that we would have been surprised by his growth and development as an artist. Faith wasn’t the greatest Pop Smoke body of work, but it equally wasn’t terrible it plays the middle ground which is often all a posthumous project can do. Something we have to consider when consuming Pop‘s art now is being aware of how we are allowing his legacy to live on. If we don’t it is not only a disrespect to the artist at the centre of it, but sets a wild precedent to what is acceptable and normalized for the future.