With his first full-length project, "Deadstar," Smokepurpp defines ignorance.
Ignorant, or rather, “IH-norant”, is the word Smokepurpp uses to describe his music and the music of his frequent collaborator, Lil Pump. It’s a clever rejoinder to the litany of descriptions that critics have introduced — lo-fi, grunge rap, blown out— as they grapple with hip-hop’s new teen-driven, Soundcloud-driven trend; and this characterization is made all the more pointed by Smokepurpp’s interpretation of ignorance. Last fall, he clarified the term on No Jumper, saying, “I don’t give a fuck when I make music, like I just don’t give a fuck what people say… so it’s just ignorant, straight ignorance on my music.” In an act of willful immaturity, he blocks out any space for dialogue by shifting the interpretive center toward himself.
So while Smokepurpp’s first mixtape, Deadstar,presents a narrative of celebrity self destruction, it largely (and more successful) concerns itself with expressions of ignorance— sometimes subtly and in ways that lend to self-reflection, but more often in the loud, obnoxious modes his fans have come to love. It’s opening track, “I Don’t Know You,” makes no effort disguising this. Built around a pitter-patter synth and a sneering hook, this song reminds us that, for Smokepurpp, fame means a bunch of strangers know you through images of lavish spending and Twitter antics, acts that (somehow) preclude him taking the time to get to know others. It features Yo Gotti riffing on the same theme, and Chief Keef, one of Smokepurpp’s biggest influences, who navigates the beat with a kind of technical flow that doesn’t show itself again on any of the proceeding songs.
The first half of Deadstar plays like any of Smokepurpp’s Soundcloud loosies, with production carried mostly by Ronny J, the guy who helped popularize that muddy, distorted bass that has become a cornerstone of Florida’s juvenile-offender rap generation (see: XXXTentacion). And his skills go way beyond that. Ronny J’s true gift is in constructing micro-environments around this bass unique to each rapper, which for Smokepurpp looks something like a high school houseparty packed with a bunch of dudes and one speaker. But this is where he thrives, because he’s too ignorant to worry about who might be put off by his vulgarity; and he reminds us on the appropriately-titled track “Audi,” saying, “I don’t want friends I want Audis”— primo ignorance. What can be fun is when Smokepurpp’s friends do show up, like on the song “OK,” where he’s joined by precocious dropout Lil Pump. Tripping over each other’s verses and ad libs, Smokepurpp begins to approximate an early, less melodic Young Thug (another artist he cites as an influence).
But this party alone, don’t care image is draining, enough that you’ll be thankful for a guest feature saving you from lines as vacuous as “Krispy Kreme/ Yeah bitch I stay clean.” A common feature of Smokepurpp’s music is brevity and a heavy reliance on repetition; some songs are composed of just one or two verses, and hooks are often a single phrase delivered over several bars— as though he is distilling the song down to a vital idea, and the surrounding bits are simply stray afterthoughts. As the above example indicates, however, Smokepurpp’s concision might suggest that he’s actually just out of stuff to say. As though his free associative rapping can’t turn up anything but diamonds on his teeth and Gucci apparel.
Then comes the mixtape’s pivot. Up to this point you could almost get away with reducing Deadstar to derivative Soundcloud bangers. On the song “Topic,” Smokepurpp’s warbled auto-tune floats in to boast about his fame (again); he brings the usual assholery and stuntin’, except, recast and modulated, there’s something somber to it all. In a move that re-centers the mixtape’s narrative arc, the tracks that follow see Smokepurpp trading in cartoonish ad libs and dense bass for auto-tune, negative space, and haunting piano notes.
His verses become even sparser and melancholic as he pairs with producers like SLIGHT and Soundsbynova, who prefer dark spaces and echoey textures. It’s experiments like these that illustrate how inaccurate, and outright wrong, music critics’ standard characterization of “Soundcloud rap” is. They need look no further than the Harry Fraud produced “Count Up,” (including stand-out D.R.A.M. feature, a highlight of the project), to see that this subgenre’s beat-makers and artists are (and have been) exploring more than just blasted-out bass and indignant lyricism. At times, the modulated crooning that Smokepurpp weaves through “To the Moon,” his first track that doesn’t make drugs out as entirely good, is more reminiscent of Bon Iver’s recent vocal experiments than it is of the kid who brought us “Fuck A Swisher.”
Deadstar is ignorant though, and that’s where it ends. The penultimate song, titled “RIP Max,” is a dedication to Smokepurpp’s brother who died of a drug overdose. It's a sloppy, scattered dirge, with as much space given to self-aggrandizement as to lamentation. Some might call it disrespectful, but to him those aren’t contradictory. Smokepurpp considers both acts, as earnest expressions of feeling, equal, and so puts them right aside one another. “It gets deeper than you really know about it,” he raps on this song, and leaves it at that. The final song, “Purgatory” is just as concerned with a “deep inside,” but similarly refuses to delve in. Those are his answers to any criticisms you might have, because of course it get’s deeper, but how could it make sense when it’s not your “deeper,” so, he says, fuck what people have to say— that’s Smokepurpp’s gospel of ignorance.