ALBUM REVIEW: Pop Smoke's "Meet The Woo 2" plays to his strengths, blending elements of UK Drill, London electronic, and New York hip-hop.
On Meet The Woo 2, Pop Smoke’s official debut album, he sticks to his comfort zone. But there is growth to be found -- both musically and personally. The 20-year-old Brooklyn phenom delivered an equally glossy and gutter debut with Meet The Woo. Successfully merging together the sounds of UK drill (influenced by the genre’s Chicago roots) and London’s penchant for electronic music, the rapper’s menacingly deep voice delivered a sobering reality. He relentlessly turns an opp into a duppy and barely wastes a breath mentioning the color of his Balmain jeans. His recklessness and haunted realities were masked as viral bangers like “Welcome To The Party” and “Dior” that would propel him as New York City’s next up.
The Brooklyn drill scene wouldn’t exist without the efforts of Bobby Shrmuda. But even as artists like 22Gz and Sheff G spearheaded the sound in Brooklyn, it’s artists like Pop Smoke and Fivio Foreign that banked on the opportunity of the international crossing as UK drill began to gain both prominence and notoriety at the same time. Meet The Woo 2 expands even further on the sonic mission as 808Melo reclaims the driver seat on the project, directing the frenetic marriage of grime, drill, and trap in the same direction. Following the dominant intro on “Invincible,” Pop Smoke and Quavo bring out the heavy artillery on “Shake The Room.” For the most part, the song’s vibe can be summed up by Pop Smoke’s go-to bar: “Henny, no chaser.” There’s enough ferocity on his part that it’s hard not to imagine one beating their chest after slugging down hip-hop’s favorite brown. With Melo on the beat, Pop Smoke manages to bring out an ounce of inspiration out of Quavo who has seemingly mailed in every single collaboration he’s done since Culture. It’s an important collaboration, too, since Quavo is the only A-List name attached to the project. Pop Smoke makes the most with his hometown contemporaries but the addition of Quavo marks one of the few major co-signs on wax, aside from a Travis Scott collab in December.
It’s easy to forget Pop Smoke is only 20-years-old due to his guttural vocals but there are moments throughout the project that remind everyone that he’s still new to this professional world. Weeks after his arrest over a stolen Rolls-Royce, it’s Steven Victor-- Pusha T’s manager and head of the newly launched Victor Victor label Pop Smoke is signed to-- that has been teaching the Brooklyn rapper how to maneuver through board rooms and courtrooms. On “Get Back,” Pop Smoke lets off clips for ad-libs as he details a crime-filled lifestyle. “N***as tryna lock me up and give me a bid, huh?/ I’m like n***a, f*ck the pigs/ The judge like, ‘Why you actin’ like a dick?’/ I said, ‘I’m movin’ like I’m Steven Vic.’”
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Meet The Woo 2 doesn’t necessarily combat the criticism that Pop Smoke lacks versatility. He plays into his strengths more than anything else. The distinct raspiness in his voice is where the money is. Even though it’s suited for the intensity of the UK drill-infused production, there are still moments where he proves it can expand past that. Songs like “Christopher Walking" build on some of the melodic-driven delivery from “Brother Man,” committing further to the sing-rap variation; though occasional Quavo/Travis Scott-like adlibs make the gruffness more palatable, it’s more for texture's sake. Even if Pop Smoke sounds wildly out of place when he details romance, songs like “She Got A Thing” perfectly suit the female demographic without sounding like a stretch. With Axl’s smooth but gritty production complimenting the raspiness, Pop Smoke teeters into the harmonies to detail love under dim strip club lights: “Climb on top, do a split/ She wanna do it on my dick/ Sit on my Amiris, I told her look out for the stick... Woo, she gon’ do it for these bands/ She make it clap like how I do both of my hands."
Perhaps the idea of mainstream appeal isn’t Pop Smoke’s aim quite yet but his unique sound is one that won't be replicated authentically. His sound stems from a regional creative uprising in Chicago before producers in the UK innovated it. Even with aspirations for global acclaim, at the end of the day, Pop Smoke's Meet The Woo 2 brings it all back to the mecca of hip-hop.