Abloh falls flat on Pop Smoke album art.
By John Jeeves
Fashion, like all other indulgences in life, is subjective; the excitement of a new drop from a fashion house is exciting, and hyping up the things you scored with your friends is half the fun—if not more than actually donning the purchase in public. In retrospect, though, some things die hard, and much of designer Virgil Abloh’s work attests. Yes, he may have been a long-time business partner of Kanye West and the creative director for Louis Vuitton, as well as the founder of Off-White, but lest we not forget the days of people (rather proudly) wielding their $200+ construction-esque belts. (Unrelated: that is four times the amount Abloh, with a net worth estimated around $4 million, donated to racial justice groups following the death of George Floyd.)
My thoughts on some of Abloh’s work are irrespective, no matter how much I believe he has sold snake oil as high-end fashion for hypebeasts. It is uncontested to say he has made a name for himself as a prominent figure in that world, and kudos to him. With that being the case, it is no surprise he has been asked, on occasion, to work on the art and general aesthetics of albums from big players in the music world—from Kanye West to Jay-Z, A$AP Rocky, and Lil Uzi Vert. By and large, his work has been well-executed and, in some instances, became classics themselves (think West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Yeezus). However, both of those are likely remnants of the past, well over five-years-old, if his newest collaboration is any indicator.
As of late, Abloh has stuck largely to his fashion career, and for good reason, because his work on the cover of the posthumous—and debut—release of Pop Smoke, Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon was quite the flop. The rapper, tragically murdered in February of 2020 (which, by the way, feels like a millennia ago), never got to see the prideful release day. The record dropped on 3 July 2020, after an initial delay to respect the justified collective outrage of a nation as a result of the continual death of people of color at the hands of law enforcement officers. Immediately upon release, though, fans of both Pop Smoke and Abloh labeled the art as “lazy” and “rushed,” and their criticisms are not difficult to contextualize. In fact, over 250 fans signed a petition to have the cover replaced.
Abloh’s justification for the art, which dons Pop Smoke’s face behind diamonds and barbed wire with a remedial-looking Photoshop technique, was that it was based on past conversations with the rapper. It appears the two had a strong friendship and Smoke was even invited to the Paris Fashion Week with the designer. However, according to Wikipedia, the graphics were later claimed to have been ripped from artist Ryder Ripps, with Ripps even adding it was “so sad that someone would care this little about art, design and the memory of a human who was so loved to wrap his name up in lies and theft.” And if that was not enough, rapper/entrepreneur 50 Cent slammed the cover and posted well over 30 fan-made designs to social media. Fans of Pop Smoke (and Abloh, for that matter) were rightfully upset with the seeming emptiness of a cultural phenomenon. Was that one slip up too big? Is this, as the saying goes, where “the buck” stops? Has that side of the fashion icon’s portfolio come to an abrupt end?
To “keep it two Virgil’s,” as people say nowadays, it would seem so: the new and improved cover, a blacked-out cover with the outline of a white rose, was showcased hours before the official release. It is worth noting how the brainchild of Off-White handles his next record release, if he decides to give it another try.