“Everything was super deliberate,” says Victor. “We’d have the mixtape in February, and then he was supposed to go on tour in March, but we were gonna to finish a bulk of the album before his tour, and then use the time while he was on tour to mix, master, and get the features done. Then we’d put the album out in June or July, and that would run its course through the end of the year.”
Instead, Shoot for the Stars had to be finished this spring in the wake of tragedy, with Victor co-executive producing the album alongside New York hip-hop heavyweight 50 Cent. All 19 songs from the full-length debuted on the Hot 100 upon its release; some of the album tracks that didn’t impact hip-hop radio or appear on streaming charts were used in TikTok videos that often went viral. “Pop Smoke's music inspired a breadth of creativity from the TikTok community throughout this past year,” says TikTok U.S. music editorial lead William Gruger, who points to comedy sketches that riff on the lyrics to “Mood Swings,” as well as the choreography that Will DeVane and Jenna Sinatra created for “What You Know Bout Love.”
Although the album continues the Brooklyn drill sound that Pop Smoke had brought to a national level, its more soulful moments have yielded some of its biggest hits -- the crooned hook and folk flutes on “For The Night,” or “What You Know Bout Love,” an R&B standout that samples Ginwune and rises 15 spots to No. 29 on this week’s Hot 100. Victor isn’t shocked that Pop Smoke’s slower songs have proven as commercially effective as his more club-ready drill tracks -- after all, when he met the young rapper and asked him who his favorite MCs were to get a sense of his influences, Pop Smoke responded by playing him a bunch of R&B cuts.
“He grew up singing in a church, and he loved R&B music,” says Victor. “He was like, ‘This is what I’m really trying to do. I really want to be a global star, and make super melodic music.’ ... He started making [drill] songs like ‘Dior,’ and we were like, ‘This is a great pocket for you,’ and he was just really good at it. But I’m not surprised about any of the R&B stuff having success, because that was one of his first loves.”
A 34-track deluxe edition of Shoot for the Stars was released on July 20, on what would have been Pop Smoke’s 21st birthday, and a remix of the song “Iced Out Audemars” featuring Lil Wayne was issued earlier this month. Victor says that “there’s definitely more music, there’s definitely more remixes,” but can’t speak to the timing of future releases, even as he’s constantly asked on social media by Pop Smoke fans ravenous for unreleased tunes. “They’re happy that the world is seeing how great Pop is because of the success that he’s having,” he says, “but at the same time, they miss him, they want more music, and I don’t blame them.”
The week after Shoot for the Stars debuted atop the Billboard 200 chart, it was replaced by another posthumous hip-hop release, Legends Never Die by Juice WRLD, who passed away at the age of 21 last December. The sad coincidence punctuated a brutal three-year stretch of rap artists passing away at far-too-young ages, from Lil Peep to XXXTentacion to Mac Miller to Nipsey Hussle, among others. Some of those artists got to experience a proper album release before their deaths; others, like Pop Smoke, did not.