Mainstream hip-hop has been stuck in its 1980s hair metal moment for the best part of two decades. Pantomime rebels spout ‘Cherry Pie’ level innuendo, cartoon aggression, no fun hedonism, all festooned in purchased female flesh. Rock in America needed its grunge moment to wash this fetid mess down the sewers, but the industry machine is resilient, so here we are in 2019 with corporate hip-hop regurgitating the same emotionally stunted slop as 1985 and no cleansing in sight. Against such a backdrop, the PR pieces positing ‘SoundCloud rap’ as hip hop’s punk moment appealed — I wanted it to be true. Alas, we’re two-three years down the line and — having had to endure 6ix9ine’s faux-gangster posturing, Lil Peep relearning decade-old lessons about narcotics, XXXTentacion’s belief that women exist only as meat-sacks for the physical expression of male angst — we all know it was marketing hype.
Lil Pump’s sophomore album, Harverd Dropout makes the case that he will never be the artist to rise above that moment and become something truly noteworthy. I’m wearied by reviews that criticize an artist for not being someone else altogether, so I want to take him at his word. Lil Pump isn’t aiming to be the most dexterous MC, the best voice on a mic, the shape-shifter morphing at every turn. Lil Pump’s ambition apparently goes no further than having one song slip onto a party playlist and make just enough impact people occasionally ask for “that song where the guy says…” having caught the couple of words he’s hammered over and over.
Faced with such low standards it’s fair to say he achieves them once or twice a year and, on this album, “Be Like Me” and “Esskeetit” scale the same heights of infectious catchiness as “Gucci Gang” and “Boss”. Unfortunately, we first heard “Esskeetit” a year ago when this album was apparently completed and, other than “Be Like Me”, this is 40 numbing minutes of identikit songs. The Day-Glo EDM production appeals but winds up so repetitive it grates — likely the first song you hear will be your favorite because everything else will sound like an echo.
Lyrically, Gucci Mane provides a fair comparison given his default themes aren’t a million miles from Lil Pump. The difference is Gucci Mane has two decades under his belt and is still gleefully twisting words in ways that surprise. The only things mind-boggling about Lil Pump are his repetitiveness and literalism: “Got a stripper bitch named Alexis, fucked her in Miami, but I left her in Texas,” “I just smashed a pregnant bitch that’s overseas,” “fucked that bitch up out in London, then I fucked up on her cousin,” “then I fucked your bitch, uh-huh,” “your bitch give me top like a drop top coup,” “smashin’ on your bitch esskeetit,” “fuck that bitch two times, I ain’t know that that’s your wife,” “busting all on your bitch wiped it off with my sweater,” “fuck a bitch once say now I’m finished,” “I nut in every bitch, I got like eight babies,” “bust a nut, any bitch, leave it in her hair,” “bitch, it’s Lil Pump.”
You’ve just had a whistle-stop tour of key lines from most tracks on Harverd Dropout — garnish with a car, jewelry, and drug references, and you know the album front-to-back. Wall-to-wall flex is hardly a rarity but what is exceptional is to listen to an album where there’s not a quotable line or word of worth. The only thing that’s actually funny here is seeing Lil Pump online playing the equivalent of “I know you are but what am I?” when people point out his lack of talent given he’s still getting back at his teachers for slighting him at school, that he spends so much time talking down at an imaginary audience of haters, and that he’s clearly so keen to claim what he has makes him anything worthwhile. He even invites eight guests to join him on the album, every one of them stepping wayyyyyy down from their A game, and every one of them makes him sound out of his depth on his own songs.
The extent of Lil Pump’s depthlessness is actually quite remarkable. He sums it up when he offers, “let me tell you somethin’ ’bout me”, and the great revelation turns out to be “thick white bitch sitting in the front seat”. As this hypothetical female is the most interesting thing about him then, gods, I wish he’d let us speak to her instead because Lil Pump is one tedious fella. His words are like an overused “Hip Hop Clichés for Dummies” fridge magnet set. What’s disheartening is to hear a hip-hop album project the voice of bored trust fund kids, entitled Ivy League fratboys, and emotionally deadened hedge fund millionaires in their 30s.
The life view declaimed here states that the mere possession of money is a moral judgment meaning you’re better than other people; that the only value of a woman is that she can be taken and used to indicate one’s superiority over their former owner; that there’s nothing of worth in life except degradation; and that there’s no society or community that might make giving rather than taking a virtue worth achieving. It’s the same neoliberal wet dream filling Lil Pump’s soul at 19 that also warms Trump’s dead heart as he gazes at his wife’s back and considers whether it’s worth getting the checkbook out so he can feign human intimacy and pretend anyone has ever loved him in his whole life.
Still, who cares? Lil Pump is harmless, just another plastic mannequin dressed up by corporate managers and milked for the benefit of a corporation. When he boasts of being a millionaire, I wince and hope someone trustworthy has read his contract because when I see his videos and what his management has spent getting superior guest artists to game the streaming stats; or the work the label’s wardrobe department has done with borrowed designer clothes; or the parade of models sprinkled across the screen; all to distract from what a personality-free void Lil Pump is, I just hope it isn’t all being paid for out of his advance like a million broke pop artists before him. While finding his shallow boastfulness very boring, I can’t help but feel empathy and try to hear it as the voice of a dyslexic 18-19-year-old who believes he has endured a lifetime of zero expectations from adults. It doesn’t excuse him punching down so consistently, but I can understand a remedial school dropout snatching some kind, any kind, of pride back.
And what the hey! Maybe I’ve just heard this album too many times to have a sense of humor. Who can begrudge a young man the chance to have fun playing ignorant and saying stupid stuff? Lil Pump deserves credit for at least trying to create something and to rise above his circumstance — and he really has made an impact and a profit at an age when most of us are working coffee shop wages at best. What gives me hope is that he co-produced “Esskeetit” and his verse on Gucci Mane’s “Kept Back” last autumn was the best thing ever to come out his mouth. I retain just enough faith to be curious what comes next. In the meantime, I’d suggest downloading the two good songs and forgetting the rest of this album ever happened.