Teen rapper Lil Pump’s repetitive yet hyper-catchy trap anthems are designed to make kids shout the same words over and over. On his self-titled debut 2017 album, Pump’s obvious shortfalls as a lyricist (particularly on simplistic breakthrough single “Gucci Gang”) didn’t really matter, with the record’s infectious energy forcing listeners to stop taking themselves so seriously and actually have some fun.
Even though it was severely lacking in substance, the record undoubtedly had a mischievous, bombastic energy that allowed people to escape their mundane lives for 37 minutes. Unfortunately, its follow-up Harverd Dropout repeats the same formula so strictly that what once felt like brainless fun, now just sounds brainless.
Pump’s approach to songwriting once again revolves around repeating meme-friendly lyrics in that trademark youthful mumble. Basically, every bar revolves around having sex with other people’s girlfriends, spending stacks of money and taking loads of Xanax, and there’s an unshakeable feeling that once you’ve heard one song on Harverd Dropout, you’ve pretty much heard them all.
With “ION,” Pump urges his young fans to “do lean in school.” On “Be Like Me,” which also features a phoned-in Lil Wayne verse, Pump goes one further, rapping: “Yes I’m ignorant and don’t give a fuck/ I take drugs like vitamin C.” “Too Much Ice” once again touches on drugs with a complete lack of self-awareness – especially given hip-hop’s notable drug problem and the drug-related deaths of artists such as Pimp C, Lil Peep and Mac Miller – as Pump irresponsibly boasts about spending $20,000 on lean.
It would be unfair to single Lil Pump out as being the only artist who revels in this kind of braggadocious content, with artists like Travis Scott, Future, and Playboi Carti routinely doing the same thing. However, each of these artists displays a vocal delivery that’s deeply layered, while their music’s atmosphere is soaked in melancholy and dread, suggesting an opulent party-hard, drug-heavy lifestyle that’s just as much tinged in sadness as happiness. Pump isn’t capable of doing the same thing, and subsequently doesn’t feel very human; he feels more like a walking meme than an actual person, and this doesn’t feel like something that should be celebrated or over-intellectualized as being punk in nature, like some critics have claimed. After all, punk was all about breaking the rules and standing up to the establishment, whereas all Pump does is stick to the script.
To be fair, Harverd Dropout does at times threaten to be a good album, with tracks such as “Stripper Name” and “Drug Addicts” both undeniable bangers. The album’s title, meanwhile, suggests Pump is making a statement about America’s elitist education system and how people of color can define pop culture without an expensive degree. On the infectious opener “Drop Out,” Pump, amid humorous raps about dropping out of school and having more money than your mother, even showcases a rare conscience as he states the disclaimer: “By the way kids, stay in school!” But this track is the only time Harverd Dropout displays any self-awareness or irony, with the rest of its songs so obviously designed for the mass market (and weighted on cramming in as many empty boasts as possible), that their creator forgets to show any personality whatsoever.
Who is Lil Pump? What is his background? What’s inside his heart? I doubt we’ll ever find out, with Pump seemingly proud to be one-note. Some will say this is what makes him unique, but I fail to see how Pump stands out from one hit wonders such as Chingy, J-Kwon, and Mims; artists we used to mock for being too repetitive and lacking any introspection, artists whose music has aged terribly. If Lil Pump’s “Vroom Vroom Vroom” was presented as a Weird Al Yankovic or SNL parody of modern trap, you wouldn’t be surprised, yet here, the song, which is easily one of the worst things I’ve ever heard, is presented as something we should actually take seriously.
Harverd Dropout also devalues the very idea of the album, with its 15 songs just sounding like 15 singles and lacking any cohesion. It’s alarmingly obvious Pump hasn’t bothered to create a narrative or concept, with his label Warner Brothers just chucking the 15 catchiest tracks onto one record. This feels lazy and like the craft of rap has gone backwards. With artists such as A$AP Rocky now recording sober and even Offset attempting to show introspection with his debut solo album, Lil Pump’s Harverd Dropout feels out-of-step and, dare I say, immature.
To be fair to Lil Pump, or Gazzy Garcia, he’s still only 18-years-old and has plenty of time to grow artistically. Hopefully he’ll end up emulating Gucci Mane as a model in terms of showing personal growth, but I’m not convinced he’s capable or even remotely interested in doing this. Harverd Dropout relies on the fast food approach, pumping out an addictive, simple product that goes down easily. But just like that Big Mac meal, you’re gonna get a stomach ache 10 minutes after finishing and wonder; was it really worth it?