People love to hate Soundcloud rappers, whether it’s attempting to school them on classic hip-hop, or revelling in Lil Xan’s tummy pain after he eats too many Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. In most instances of old-guard-shouts-at-cloud-rap, though, it’s ultimately a futile task. The younger generation tend to be in on the joke to begin with, and the egg usually ends up on the face of those getting so worked up.
This is nowhere truer than in the case of Lil Pump. When he first broke through with ‘Gucci Gang’ in 2017, most didn’t know how to take the viral smash. Was he for real? Was it a joke? It wasn’t hard to feel like you were missing something, really – the song seemed to feature all the hallmarks of a SNL comedian’s base idea of what modern rap was all about. Mind-numbingly repetitive flow? Check! A video featuring CGI tigers? Yep! Goofy lyrics capable of inspiring as many laughs as eye rolls, such as “Me and my Grandma take meds”? You bet.
Pump actively courts such scorn. He revels in his own ridiculousness and utilises it for his own gain. This is someone who recruits Charlie Sheen for music videos, declares himself “the most lyrical rapper of all-time” – simply to bait online trolls – and manages to get Kanye in on the action, too. The pair (perhaps the two most controversial figures in rap at the moment) recently came together to don oversized costumes (and dress up as water bottles) for their deeply-offensive-if-it-wasn’t-so-OTT collab single ‘I Love It’. The track broke the Top 10 in both the UK and US and became West’s highest-charting single since 2015.
However, over the complete course of ‘Harverd Dropout’, the Miami MC’s deliberately misspelled second album, the joke quickly loses its lustre… or simply stops being a joke altogether. Tongue-in-cheek humour is Pump’s biggest selling point, but many of the album’s 16 songs (most of which have a running time of just over two minutes) feel like little more than regurgitated punchlines or uninspired variations on themes already set up and adequately executed on the rapper’s early tracks.
It quickly becomes apparent that there’s a limited shelf life to Pump’s shtick. “My grandma sippin’ on Actavis” from ‘Esskeetit’, for example, is a straight-up recycling of that earlier groan-worthy ‘Gucci Gang’ gag. Meanwhile on ‘Drug Addict’, Pump (two albums in at this point) already resorts to reflecting upon his grand legacy: “Gucci Gang, Gucci Gang, yeah I’m a trend-setter (Gucci Gang)”.
Where Pump does excel, however, is in his ear for good hooks and beats – and there are many times where the bold and brash production is so engaging enough that it almost validates what’s coming out of Pump’s mouth. There’s the grimy ‘Nu Uh’, the hypnotising ‘Racks and Racks’, the unwieldy sonic stabs of ‘Too Much Ice’ and the buoyant and bubbling backdrop of ‘Esskeetit’, the latter co-produced by Pump himself.
During the rare moments where things do click on ‘Harverd Dropout’ – see the Lil Wayne-assisted ‘Be Like Me’, which is very much a revamp of ‘The Real Slim Shady’ for 2019 – it’s easy to see the uncomplicated appeal of Lil Pump, and you realise it’s probably not worth overthinking. “Everybody wanna be like Pump / Everybody got fake dreads and love to take drugs,” he raps, before adding a couple of lines later: “Yes, I’m hella ignorant, I don’t give a fuck”. At least he’s self-aware. You have to give him that.