There’s a reason that Lil Pump is represented in cartoon form on the artwork of his 2017 self-titled debut album. The 18-year-old and his Soundcloud rap peers represent a new breed of hip-hop star – rappers who present themselves as caricatures of the more colourful aspects of a larger-than-life music genre. With absurd appearances, intentionally stupid lyrics, and general ‘fuck everything’ attitudes, they court both your ire and your attention, and the more intense the response they provoke, the greater their success. There’s a template for this stuff: whether it’s in Future’s auto-tuned warble or Young Thug’s incomprehensible mumble, now and then rappers appear with a new style that seems at first ridiculous, then ubiquitous, before ultimately being accepted – and exhausted.
Lil Pump is somewhat of a ringleader in his field. After the success of breakout single “Gucci Gang”, a number of similar rappers came to prominence (if you don’t know your 6ix9ine from your Lil Xan, you’re not the only one). Their music had similar characteristics: low production values, short length, lyrical idiocy. Their goal: offending polite society while gaining viral success. Pump is better at this than most.
All of this makes assessing Harverd Dropout as an album in traditional terms of artistic integrity a pointless exercise. The question is whether it engages viscerally rather than narratively, and, to a surprising extent, the answer is yes.
On Harverd Dropout, the production budget is bigger than on his debut and expectations are arguably higher, but thankfully Pump keeps things concise. In an age of overlong tracklists to rack up streaming figures, the 16 tracks here are over in 40 minutes. The pacing is pretty good; most of these minimalist tracks zip by in around two minutes, entertainingly changing pace and meaning the ones that don’t work don’t outstay their welcome. And when Pump is good, he’s catchy. The success of trap music can rely to a large extent on a charismatic performer riding a catchy beat, and Pump executes this well at times – particularly on the ridiculously simple “off white, alright” refrain of “Off White”. Guests are largely deployed well – Lil Uzi Vert is somewhat compelling on “Multi Millionaire” while frequent collaborator Smokepurpp has chemistry with Pump on “ION”.
I felt a distinct sense of unease at finding myself enjoying elements of lyrically risible single “Racks and Racks” and the Kanye-featuring “I Love It”. Like a hollow hour of trash TV or a greasy mass of Big Mac, Lil Pump’s music can become a guilty pleasure: you know that it’s nutritionally bankrupt and it hasn’t been made with good intentions, but you can’t stop it from hitting the brain where it likes it.
That’s not to say that the earworm beats and brisk pace completely mask the core emptiness of Pump’s record, though. He’s had to ‘apologise’ for a number of controversies in the lead-up to Harverd Dropout, including racist lyrics and sample stealing, and the inane lyricism can become grating after a while – notably in the latter part of the record.
It particularly sinks when the increased budget is used to depart from the two-minute ‘banger’ format, such as on the Lil Wayne-featuring “Be Like Me”. Here, Wayne and Pump labour the point over four tedious minutes, lamenting that when your shtick becomes successful, everyone wants to copy you. Ironically, “Be Like Me” is the least successful track here, and for all the reasonable beats that come and go on the record, there’s nothing that stands out to the extent of “Gucci Gang”. In fact, once the caveats of Harverd Dropout are taken into account, it doesn’t really offend, nor does it wholly command your attention – kind of missing the mark in the process.
Words by Tom Burrows.