Two Looks At Success

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Lil Pump is Feeling Himself

Is Lil Pump good? Short answer: no. But it’s more complicated than that. Lil Pump is the most mainstream remnant of a Soundcloud boom that left the murder of the problematic artist XXXtentacion and the complicated case of 6ix9ine in its wake. He’s been controversial, but to a much lesser extent than some of his peers. For example, he came under fire for a Not Great line about Yao Ming, and he has some occasional belligerent moments—standard fare for a teenager who is richer and more famous than he’d ever dreamed he would be.

But this belligerence is key to his charm. Lil Pump isn’t trying to be Tupac, and we probably shouldn’t judge him by his lyrics (lacking), his politics (non-existent), or his musical complexity (ha). But despite this, he’s making popular music that people enjoy. Why is this? Are people stupid? I listened to Pump’s new album, Harverd Dropout from start to finish a few times (which admittedly is too much Lil Pump at once), and I was surprised to find out that he does a number of things really well.

First of all, some of his peers make being a rich and famous rapper sound like such a drag (like the aforementioned XXXtentacion), and there is a general malaise that permeates much of contemporary hip-hop—but this doesn’t seem to have reached Lil Pump. He sounds like he’s actually having fun. He has a whole ode to drug addiction called “Drug Addicts” where he raps, “I been smokin’ since I was 11/ I been poppin’ pills since I was seven.” Unlike the late Lil Peep, Lil Pump does not have to deal with the real ramifications of drug addiction because at the moment, he’s having a blast. It might catch up to him, but this anxiety doesn’t seem to exist in his head, so it’s not in his work.

He’s funny, too. There are several moments in this album where I laughed out loud at some ridiculous line he said—like on his opening track “Drop Out,” where he raps an entire song about the glories of being a rich high school dropout and then ends with an outro saying, “By the way kids/ Stay in school.” Or in the song with a Lil Wayne feature, “Be Like Me,” where he raps, “I’m a millionaire/ But I can’t read;” then follows with the ad lib, “Nope!”

Pump’s ad libs are probably the most interesting part of his music. While many rappers sprinkle ad libs all through their tracks, often existing in the background, Pump’s gleeful shouts and noises permeate his bars and are just as vital as the words he’s rapping. Sometimes he’ll frame a whole song just around the noises he can make, like “Vroom Vroom Vroom,” which to some could sound like a simple childish track but could very well be an onomatopoeic masterpiece. Or “ESSKEETIT,” which explores all the possible meanings of a word Pump himself created (a deconstruction of Let’s Get It).

Pump is fun, he’s getting better at rapping, and his songs never overstay their welcome—often coming in at under two minutes, unless there’s a feature. You might think his glorification of drug use and materialism requires reproach, or that his lyrical paucity is a detriment to the art form, but Pump does not give a fuck, and that’s working for him right now.

Offset is Grown

In Lil Pump’s Harverd Dropout, we can credit the boasting of his lavish lifestyle to useful exuberance, and we might even say that these excesses can be attributed to a kind of glossing over of some deeper trauma. But if Pump is glossing over the trauma that leads to big time stunting, Offset is taking an opportunity to truly explore who he is and why he does the things he does. Father of 4 is the final instalment in the Migos’ solo enterprise, and it has turned out to be the most thoughtful and cohesive project of the three.

The album is nearly an hour long, and there are definitely some songs that could’ve been cut. At its worst, it suffers from the same things that plague all the Migos when they phone in it; an example of this is the song “On Fleek” (that actually features Quavo), which sounds like an AI rendering of a Migos song. But at its peak, which comes mostly in the first half of the album, Offset digs deep and explores the economic anxieties that underlie his drive to succeed and which have played a big role in his criminal history. He raps, “I’m father of four, gotta get that cash, gold/ Keep my past closed, ‘member I ain’t had no dough… If I don’t ball, everything ‘round me fall.” Though he is one of the most successful rappers in the world right now, this feels like a precarious position to him. Offset seems to feel that people don’t want him to succeed—that at any moment, if he slows his grind, everything could crumble, and he’ll be left where he was before: broke and needing to hit some licks just to survive.

A story that captivated much of the hip hop community for most of the past few months was Offset’s separation from his wife Cardi B and their subsequent reunion. There were rumors Offset was cheating, but he attributes most of the issues to he and Cardi both being some of the biggest rappers in the world and the blog boys being out to get him. Cardi is featured on a skippable track, and the song “Don’t Lose Me” functions as an apology to her right in the middle of the album. But Offset’s main concern at the heart of the album is fatherhood. His father was not around in his life (“Mama had the boy by herself/ it was critical”), and he already has regrets with some of his kids, explicitly apologizing, “Jordan, sorry I wasn’t there for all your birthdays.”

Now, he’s got some respite though. Offset has money and success, and he’s trying to figure out how to be a father and make up for his past mistakes. Like he raps on the closing song, he’s “Came a long way from that choppa and the car.”

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