The Oxymoronic Genius of Lil Pump

Artwork by Liz Benjamin

Artwork by Liz Benjamin

by James Ammirato

We are living in the Information Age, a time when large amounts of information are widely available to many people, largely through computer technology. With the invention of search engines, the consumption of commonplace information has become so fundamentally simplistic that anything not easily obtained has been assessed as unessential. This has had a remarkable effect on the attention span of the human race. When nothing needs to be looked for, when the hunt is taken out of the quest for knowledge, people don’t want to or feel the need to search for anything more than what’s being given to them. On top of this, the advent of social media has left a substantial portion of news cut down to mere soundbites and simple concepts. Music, unfortunately, is no different.

Coincidentally, the Information Age has found itself intersected with the current wave of trap music that occupies the bulk of popular music in the U.S. today. This is unsurprising, as trap is a subgenre of rap that in itself has a short attention span, mostly consisting of triplet flows, huge 808s, and sixteenth-note hi-hat oriented beats. A lot of trap music is great and certainly groundbreaking in terms of production and growing range of topics, but the its oversaturation in popular music today has left a sizable portion of it prey to the bell curve.

This intersection is, of course, purely by circumstance. If we were living in a timeline where rap music was formed at the same time as the rock movement, we would be privy to some sort parallel style of rock that’s cut down to the bare essentials, then packaged and shipped out for maximum profit. But I digress.

Lil Pump was born Gazzy Garcia on August 17, 2000, in Miami, Florida. When he was 13, he was introduced to Omar Pineiro, better known as Smokepurpp, another prominent trap rapper today. The two became fast friends, and together they were kicked out of several district schools in Miami. After being enrolled in an opportunity high school, Lil Pump was kicked out in the tenth grade for inciting a riot. This was apparently enough of a sign to the young rapper that school wasn’t for him, and he stayed out to pursue rapping full time.

I first heard of Lil Pump a little over two years ago from a friend who lives in Orlando. He told me to check out a track called “Kilo” on SoundCloud, which featured Smokepurpp. “You gotta check this out, dude,” he told me. “This kid is only like 15, but his tracks have well over 3 million plays on SoundCloud.” Intrigued, I had to see what this was about. What greeted me was a minute and a half long song with the hook “My neck worth a kilo.” This fast, fun mantra goes extremely well over the cloudy yet intense production from Ronny J (then known as RONNYJLI$TENUP).

The track is strong in a plethora of ways. It features intense production with heavy 808s and fast hi-hats - a staple in successful trap. The vocals are complete with Pump and Purpp’s ridiculous flows (I believe it’s the fastest Lil Pump song, both in terms of BPM and Pump’s lyrical delivery) and an extremely catchy hook that fits the syllable count necessary for the beat, not to mention something we all aspire to have; money. By saying “my neck worth a kilo” the artist is effectively conveying the idea that he is wealthy, accomplished, and decked out in a gaudy chain in only five words. This is the only thing the song needs in order to maintain its audience, and it does it well, because if one has riches, one has many other things that I will choose not to name (use your imagination). On top of all this, the track gives off an air of just completely not giving a fuck - something that is highly attractive to the 15-24 year old demographic. Translated to the mass audience, here’s a guy who dropped out of high school at age 15, and is now rapping about his neck being worth a kilo? Fuck school! It’s a brilliant marketing technique and Pump took full advantage of it, whether he was aware of it or not.

From here, I listened to some of Pump’s other earlier tracks such as “Lil Pump,” his first published freestyle produced by Smokepurpp himself. The song is essentially a piano beat with lines like “Mama told me Lil Pump won’t be shit / I tol’ a bitch I can move these bricks.” Another track, “Elementary” has Pump “selling bricks since elementary.” Though these tracks are some of the worst in his catalog, they serve as an incredibly important stepping stone for his career, as they remain what put him on the SoundCloud map.

In early 2017, Pump dropped tracks “D Rose” and “Boss,” two more mega-hits for the then 16-year-old. “D Rose” was particularly successful, with a chorus of Pump simply chanting “D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose!” Opening with the sound of gunfire and an eerie synth, about 12 seconds in we hear the familiar tag, “Lil Pump!” that almost sounds shy against the clipping bass. After a quickly descending synth lead drops us into the song, we’re assaulted with the fuzzed-out repetition, “Hunnid on my wrist, eighty on my wrist / Hunnid on my wrist, eighty on my wrist” which then heads right into the chorus. Though the chorus of “D Rose” is what people know most about the track, I believe the opening lines are the most important, for only one reason. They play right into the ability of saying words quickly that are easy to be rattled off. Let me explain; a lot of people love to listen to rap because to some, it’s a guy saying words that are meaningful (or not) really, really fast. It impresses us. We’re in awe of the artist’s skill. But by providing words that are easy to say in rapid succession, the artist has provided this gateway for the listener to participate, so that they can feel as cool as the person who made the song. The opening lines of “D Rose” are perfect for this.

From here, Pump wasted no time in cultivating an image for himself: a flashy teen who doesn’t care about anything except drugs, money, and women, who constantly says “Eskeetit!!” With this term, Lil Pump successfully combined the three words of “let’s get it” into a one-word catchphrase, that can now be seen in social media videos around the world. Since it’s not a real word, it’s pretty easy for anyone to say it and have it mean something. For someone who seems like they don’t even know where they are half the time, that’s pretty impressive. What’s even more impressive is making an image for oneself so strong that one word is instantly indicative of them worldwide. However, the single word catchphrase directly plays into the Information Age, in that a single word is easily digested and spit back out at a massive rate, to seemingly unite the rapper’s audience.

In August 2017, two weeks after Pump’s 17th birthday, he released the biggest song of his career, and what would come to be known as his trademark track; “Gucci Gang.” Now I know, a lot of people have opinions about this track. It’s one of the most polarizing examples of music we’ve had in a long time, sparking debates everywhere music lovers dwell on the internet. Obviously there’s no correct interpretation about the track, it’s what the listener makes of it. In my opinion, “Gucci Gang” is not only a decent song, but one that cemented Lil Pump as one of the leaders of the SoundCloud rap movement, as well as a public figure. If nothing, the track is iconic. At two minutes and four seconds, it’s the perfect length for the average SoundCloud hit, and, of course, it is exceedingly simple. It takes the classic Pump method of taking two words and repeating them over and over and calling it a hook, which in today’s climate is perfectly acceptable. The song hit #3 on the American Billboard chart, a predicted happenstance. Although the song is completely dumbed down and pandering, it’s a total earworm. Even if you don’t like the song, it’s practically impossible not to groove to it, despite the fact that it seems to lack a real meaning. In the modern day, you can expect no less than something like “Gucci Gang.” It’s probably the most easily digested song of all time, and it’s so short that it’s practically over by the time you go to turn it off. On top of all this, the phrase “Gucci Gang” itself denotes some kind of exclusive club, a mark of status and wealth. Being part of the Gucci Gang is something Lil Pump is saying we should all aspire to, because, as he essentially conveys with the accompanying music video, money equals drugs equals popularity equals happiness. Whether or not you take that to heart is up to you as the listener, but I don’t believe it’s to be taken very seriously.

That being said, “Gucci Gang” itself is a product of the current age, a point in popular music we’ve been heading to for a long time. Not to sound like an old head, but hooks in rap songs and most every other genre used to be a bit more thought out when they were released, and hold a bit more meaning. Some would argue that “Gucci Gang” is a sign that music has become dumbed down over the years, and that the song is putting the bar in the ground as far as musical creativity. Personally, I know I wouldn’t go that far, but I get their point. However, I do believe that “Gucci Gang” is a sign that the attention span of those consuming the media of popular music has drastically gone down. It’s hard to accept, but with the constant stream of information being shoved in our faces at light speed, it was bound to happen anyway.

The release of Pump’s debut commercial mixtape, Lil Pump (2017), saw with it several features from highly prominent artists, not just in the current trap scene (Smokepurpp, Lil Yachty, Chief Keef) but from older rap artists, such as Rick Ross, 2 Chainz, and even Gucci Mane. This shows that not only is Pump succeeding in the mainstream, he is also being recognized by other rappers as a potential money maker. Guys like Rick Ross and Gucci Mane don’t just appear on every 17-year-old’s mixtape, they do it because they’ve been in the game for over a decade, and they know who’s blowing up and who’s not. Lil Pump saw the trapper cranking out one catchy track after the next, without a care in the world. The tape features production from Ronny J (Denzel Curry, Ski Mask the Slump God, Eminem) and Bighead (Lil Peep, Lil Tracy). With the help of these two accomplished producers, the tape comes across as simple; bangers on bangers.

After the release of Lil Pump, the world watched as this inexplicable force dominated the SoundCloud rap genre, as well as the world of social media. His contract with Warner Bros. Records was voided on the grounds that he was a minor (seriously, he was 17) and the competition around the unsigned wunderkind reportedly rose from $8 to $12 million. However, he resigned to Warner Bros. for $8 million in March of 2018. Bestowed with extravagant wealth at a ridiculously young age left Pump free to spend his money on whatever he wanted, including cars, guns, and drugs. In April 2018, he released “Esskeetit,” his most popular single since Lil Pump, solidifying his catchphrase in the form of a song. In July 2018, he released “Drug Addicts” with a video featuring Charlie Sheen, who the rapper has seemed to take a liking to, for whatever reason. Though the song’s hook is “Whole gang fulla drug addicts,” one look at the video will tell you that Pump is far from sincere in his proclaimed love for all things drug-related. Set in a hospital, it features tables full of colored liquids and pills, and of course dozens of women in sexy nurse costumes. Alongside all this is Charlie Sheen, who says nothing for the entire video, simply along for the ride. Horribly degrading and misguiding, the song could be damaging to young minds, eager to consume anything deemed inappropriate or rebellious.

The idea of easily consumable media in the Information Age is undeniable, but when you combine this concept with the fact that younger and younger people are consuming tracks like “Drug Addicts” and “Molly,” the idea becomes much more real, as the underdeveloped brain is effortlessly molded to anything it believes to be “good.” When ideas like “doing lean and xanax everyday is good” are tossed around, the problem is exponentially magnified. Because of this, I believe Pump has a lot more power than he may think, and we can only hope that he doesn’t directly cause any tragedies regarding substance abuse.

Lil Pump has also developed a kind of fascination with Harvard University. On December 10, 2017, he posted a picture in front of the Harvard entrance on Instagram, with the caption “Harvard graduate.” Obviously, since he was 17 at the time, this is a false statement, but we have to wonder what his intentions were with the post. Does Lil Pump secretly desire to be a Harvard graduate? Does he just want to be considered smart? Does he simply equate Harvard with intelligence? Does Lil Pump have a side to him that wants to get out of the rat race and just be a smart guy, maybe get a good degree and live out his days as a doctor? None of these questions are easy to answer, but on July 28, 2018, we got the closest thing to an answer we could hope for, with Pump’s announcement of his upcoming album, Harverd Dropout. It appears as though the above questions really are just speculation, and that Pump really couldn’t give less of a shit about being considered smart, especially considering the fact that he misspells the name of the school he claims to be interested in. In an XXL announcement, Pump claimed Harverd Dropout would be released on his birthday, August 17, 2018. However, due to some legal issues such as firing a gun in his house and driving without a license, the album was pushed back to an undetermined date, and remains unreleased.

The concept of Harverd Dropout fascinates me. Lil Pump went from being infatuated with one of the most highly regarded schools in the world to calling a commercial release a parody of the aforementioned name. The sheer dichotomy of the professed love of intelligence and the glorification of stupidity is astounding. How can someone who wants to be so smart actually be so dumb? I personally believe it’s a business tactic. Pump knows that people around the world associate Harvard with intellect, and his round rejection of the school puts him at a godlike status. Who would want to drop out of Harvard? Who would be so okay with such failure? The answer to these questions is Lil Pump, someone who has a lot more going for him than a fancy degree. He’s telling the world that he doesn’t need to go to school to be successful, he’s already reached the summit. And we’re eating it up.

Finally, I’d like to discuss Pump’s most recent collaboration with the controversial Kanye West. I’m not going to go into anything about West, I believe a lot of his actions speak for themselves. This is a discussion of Lil Pump. In late summer 2018, Kanye announced he would be hosting something called “The Pornhub Awards,” as some sort of token of appreciation he has for the site. As ridiculous as it sounds, Kanye would be literally handing out trophies to pornstars deemed “the best” in their respective categories. As one would imagine, the evening required music to complement and accompany this ceremony, and there had to be a track that encompassed the spirit of the night. Who did Kanye recruit as a feature? None other than the newly adult Lil Pump. The result was “I Love It,” a two-minute song sandwiched by a highly sexual vocal excerpt from Adele Givens, with the hook “You’re such a fuckin’ hoe / I love it.” There’s not a lot that can be said about this song. When I first saw the thumbnail of the video, I truly thought it was a fabrication. But after watching it, I can only confirm it’s all too real.

The hook of the song plays directly into Information Age media, as well as the level of profanity and obscenities that are tossed around in everyday language. As a society, we’ve become so desensitized to things like swearing and sexism that this song hardly even flew above the radar. What it did do was highlight the unlikely combination of West and Pump, two individuals divided by a generation of age, and everything that comes with that amount of time. Of course, the song went straight to number one, as people nowadays simply look for the next shocking piece of media and are able to subsist on it until the next big thing. And that’s not to say that this track isn’t an extremely important piece of culture from the year 2018, it most certainly is. But with the rapidly progressing state that we live in today, we can really only live on a day to day basis of culture and information. Currently, with over 267 million views on YouTube, the song is a certified hit.

In the end, do I really believe Lil Pump is a genius? No. Do I think he’s the next really great songwriter? No. However, do I think he’s punching all the right buttons? Yes. Do I think he knows exactly what he’s doing in order to stay at the top? Yes. Though I don’t believe Pump is a “genius” or even someone with above average intelligence, that shouldn’t discount him from the musical zeitgeist. He’s experienced an inordinate amount of success for someone who just came of age two months ago, and he’s doing what he thinks is right in order to keep that success alive. Now, does that constitute genius? Well, dear reader, that’s up to you to decide.

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