Lil Pump (Self-titled)
Recommended if you like Smokepurrp, Ski Mask the Slump God, XXXTentacion
Favorite Tracks: 2, 5
Say what you will about Lil Pump, but he knows his lane. Lil Pump, his self-titled debut mixtape, delivers exactly what his SoundCloud singles promised: beats that come bass-boosted so your speakers don’t have to be, flows and rhymes that are both catchy and ignorable enough to background, and almost nothing else. In an interview with Noisey, Smokepurpp – a longtime friend of Pump’s who features three times on the mixtape – defined the burgeoning and vital “Soundcloud rap” movement, simply: “Ignorant.” Everyone involved, it seems, is knowingly making empty-calorie music. That’s not an inherent problem, but it does help to define expectations for the music coming in – thirty-seven minutes of beats simultaneously flossy and lo-fi, rapping that erases the line between verse and chorus in both length and structure. If there’s any greater takeaway to get from the tape, it’s to further underline how Pump is in a long line of rappers that have “ruined” hip-hop during their come-ups: to pull from a pool of possible stylistic influences, there’s Soulja Boy, Lil B, Gucci Mane, and Chief Keef.
There’s a case to be made that this is music for Generation Z, for social-media-addled teens that can’t focus on anything for long – of the fifteen tracks on Lil Pump, only five run over three minutes in length, leaving twenty minutes for the other ten songs. This means that they don’t have the time for much, but why would they need it? His verses become choruses as the subject matter blurs from track to track, with words rendered irrelevant next to the beat, the flows, the energy. To critique a Lil Pump track for being insubstantial in most any way seems to be completely missing the point; if you don’t like it, you’re trying too hard. “Gucci Gang” peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, after all, and nobody came at it for the lyrics. Instead, the track’s all about how his voice runs through the beat, a surprisingly low-key change-up if you’re used to the shouting-over-distorted-bass of other Soundcloud hits that find their way onto the tape (“D Rose,” “Molly,” “Flex Like Ouu”).
Lil Pump is a clear descendant of the vibe-over-everything school of trap music that saw an explosion in 2017. But the tape has a problem: taken in single-track doses, its energy is intoxicating; but as a fifteen-track project, that same asset turns exhausting. “At the Door,” with its detuned bells and hazy, “Gucci Gang”-echoing synths, feels no different from “Foreign”; aside from the features and level of distortion, there’s not much to distinguish between “Smoke My Dope” or “Iced Out” or “Boss.” Pump may know his lane, but Lil Pump – his debut – paints it as perilously narrow, with tracks echoing each other so closely that it often feels like it’s doing the same trick fifteen times, making the forty minutes feel twice that. If even its best songs – “Back,” featuring Lil Yachty, and “Gucci Gang,” featuring lumbering bass and a wafting synth and piano – have little to distinguish themselves from the pack, then the forgettable songs fare even worse. He fails to leave an impression on “Crazy,” “Foreign,” or “Pinky Ring,” possibly the most damning thing for an artist whose appeal is predicated on raw energy. The bigger issue, though, may not be of his music at all but instead of format. While many of the “Soundcloud rappers” in this scene, Pump included, have put out singles that caught fire, their natural environment seems to end there; tellingly, XXXTentacion, the scene’s breakout star, turned towards indie folk for his debut in 17. It may have simply been a clever A&R decision on Warner’s part to label this project a “mixtape” to account for the total lack of sequencing.
It doesn’t help that, on many of these tracks, Pump himself feels like a total non-entity. This isn’t to critique his lyrics – they’re completely beside the point – but instead to point out his energy; if anything, his calling card is his ability to say a line with as much exuberance the fifteenth time as he does the first. And it certainly is a kind of charisma, but after long enough it stops being engaging altogether, his shouts flattening out into the same monotone. This makes the features welcome, even if few are actually worth the time; Gucci Mane sounds completely comfortable, if zoned-out, on the Burrprint-indebted “Youngest Flexer,” and the timbre of his voice offers a welcome change to the tone of the track; both Lil Yachty on “Back” and Chief Keef’s cosign-as-verse on “Whitney” have a similar effect. Not everyone gets that far, though: Rick Ross sounds positively ancient on “Pinky Ring,” and 2 Chainz hands in uncharacteristically poor bars on “Iced Out.” In each case, it feels like the emcees tried to adapt to Pump’s chants rather than bringing their own style. It’s an uncomfortable fit.
All said, Lil Pump is most striking in its utilitarianism – this is music for partying to and almost nothing else, and it passes that test with flying colors. It may hint at a possible direction for hip-hop to explore in the future or point towards a bizarre metacommentary on commercialism within society writ large, but it’s doubtful that Pump cares about any of that. Subwoofers aside, it ultimately rings hollow, especially when taken as a package; while some of the tracks may land just right in just the right situation, that’s hardly high praise. And it may be engaging on a conceptual level, but that’s so far removed from the idea of Pump’s music that it’s hard to see that as a redeeming factor. For the most part, the mixtape is thoroughly forgettable on every level that matters when you press play. It’s unapologetically shallow, and whether or not that’s the point it’s still hard to love when the energy burns itself out after a few minutes and you’re left with a dozen tracks that manage to be simultaneously high-octane and boring. But if that’s enough to turn you off, you’re probably just too old.