Shoot For The Stars Aim For The Moon
If the uproar over the original cover of Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon—designed, per Pop Smoke’s wishes, by Virgil Abloh—tells us anything, it’s that hip-hop fans cared deeply for the slain Brooklyn rapper. As Smoke’s official debut and the project following up the well-received Meet the Woo mixtape series—not to mention the first one Pop wouldn’t be around to deliver—Shoot for the Stars meant enough to fans that they’d object in droves to what they believed was an unfit representation of their hero. What they’d find once they got past the artwork, though, is that Smoke had quite a bit of music diverging from the quintessential Brooklyn drill he was best known for.
Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon was executive produced by 50 Cent, the veteran MC having formed a mentor-like relationship with Smoke sometime during Smoke’s meteoric rise. “When me and Pop went to go see 50 originally, he told 50, ‘Yo, I'm working on this album,' and he was sending 50 songs,” Pop Smoke’s friend and manager Steven Victor tells Apple Music. “'Yo, get Chris Brown on this song for me. I’m thinking about putting this song on my album. What do you think about it?' They were already in conversation about his album.” Following Smoke’s untimely passing in February 2020, 50 would take the reins as a means of honoring his friend’s vision. “I recorded three records and then I was like, 'Don't let me overkill or over-50 on Pop's s**t,'” 50 Cent tells Apple Music. “There's certain joints there that Steven will tell you—because of my process, I understood what he was doing.”
50 Cent appears on a single song on Shoot for the Stars (“The Woo”), which doesn’t make it any easier to determine where Smoke’s aspirations of diversifying his sound ended and 50’s curation began. Smoke flows gruffly over R&B samples on “Yea Yea” and “Diana,” and then chooses to explore the whole of his vocal range on the CashMoneyAp-produced “For the Night.” Attempting to channel a regional vibe, he’s not-so-inconspicuously titled his Tyga collab “West Coast S**t.” UK-based producer and longtime collaborator 808 Melo is all over the album, along with guest appearances from homegrown NYC MCs Rowdy Rebel and Lil Tjay. There are also three separate songs featuring Quavo, as well as appearances from a handful of first-time collaborators who also happen to be some of rap’s most dependable hitmakers (Future, DaBaby, Roddy Ricch). Then there is “Enjoy Yourself,” a feel-good pop-rap collaboration that features Colombian vocalist KAROL G rapping in Spanish. But it is the uniquely charming NYC-bred aggression and sex appeal of Smoke himself that tie together the disparate features of Shoot for the Stars. And to let Victor tell it, the project is the realization of where he and Smoke knew the MC was destined to be. “It’s crazy because everything was coming together the way we spoke about it,” Victor says. “The whole idea was we were going to put out a series of mixtapes: Meet the Woo 1, Meet the Woo 2, Meet the Woo 3—however long it took to make his name a staple. Then from there, we would go to the album. After the second mixtape, he was [already] making a name for himself.”