Hip Hop Roundup: RIP Pop Smoke

This past Tuesday night, I felt inclined to re-listen to Pop Smoke’s new album Meet the Woo 2 for no other reason other than to digest what I hadn’t from my first couple of listens. Like any other decision at 4 in the morning, this one was made on a whim. My mind was already fatigued from all of the new music I absorbed prior to this unholy time, and I didn’t have class until 12:30 the next day, so why the hell not?

The entirety of this situation is abnormal and quite frankly bizarre; but not as aberrant as what would eventually transpire a measly four or five hours later. At 10 am on Wednesday morning, Feb. 19, drill pariah Pop Smoke was senselessly murdered during a home invasion carried out by four masked men. Imagine if the last person you talked too unexpectedly died shortly thereafter. That’s how I felt having only indulged myself in the immersive world of Bashar Barakah Jackson at 4 in the morning on that fateful Wednesday morning.

At this point in time, there’s been so many blog posts and articles celebrating the late 20 year-old. To not sound redundant would be an astronomically challenging task; but Jackson’s everlasting legacy undoubtedly warrants as much celebration as possible.

Pop’s ascension from local messiah to mainstream lore was unprecedented-even within a day and age where artists are seemingly blowing up quicker than ever before. He started making music about two years ago when sheer karma and a stark presence of marijuana allowed him to engage in his first ever recording. That song would eventually morph into Pop’s inaugural release, “MPR.”

That December 2018 single would set the stage for the following summer, a transcendent time period for New York City rap thanks to Mr. Woo himself. “Welcome to the Party” quickly became an improbable summer anthem; and his first mix-tape Meet the Woo would solidify his chalky, yet melodic sound as a new norm. Jackson’s style was brazenly unique in the way Chief Keef’s canorous annunciations were unparalleled to the novice sub-genre of Chicago drill in the early 2010s. Pop obtained an imitable voice from the outset, growling and scratching his way through 808Melo and AXl production (UK affiliates).

I’m not going to sit here and say that I completely understand what Pop Smoke meant too his borough, or the state of New York for that matter. As a white middle class college student who hails from a city full of mayonnaise, it’s not my place to speak on the behalf of everyone who personally knew Jackson-or personally affected by him. After all, he explicitly stated in an interview with Face Magazine that he raps for the “kids growing up in poverty,” which was a position I was never in.

From a personal standpoint, I can proudly say that I do however thoroughly enjoy every little nuance sprinkled throughout his music; from the memorable ad-libs, to the oscillating bass-lines; to his guttural laugh at the beginning of tracks; to his insanely haunting choruses that sound like battle cries and party invitations wrapped into one guttural sequence.

I remember first hearing the cold introduction to Pop’s exclusive lilt at a Wiz Khalifa concert, when a group of 20-something year olds were blasting “Welcome to the Party” out the trunk of their car while pre-gaming with bottles of liquor. Presumably, this group of people hailed from New York, as Pop Smoke was still a relatively unknown entity at that time. (the concert was held in Connecticut, so it would only make sense).


Jackson gained notoriety soon thereafter. More and more people fell in love with songs like “Dior,” “War,” and “Christopher Walking,” despite the ludicrous attempts to levy his demise courtesy of our very own legal system. He wasn’t a perfect person, but none of us are. What stood out the most was his down-to-Earth personality (as shown in his Angie Martinez interview), infectious musicality, and stratospheric potential. He was the outstanding son of a Jamaican mother and Panamanian father; a person who cared deeply about those close to him.

I can’t help but draw parallels between this excruciating death and the equally catastrophic departure of Speaker Knockerz. The latter unfortunately passed in 2014 at 19 years-old, yet his imprint was universally felt throughout rap’s eclectic auto-crooners from the mid to late 2010s. His everlasting footprint on the culture prompted Genius to create a video detailing his immortal legacy. Jackson will soon feel that same appreciation. He already is now. Surely there will be Pop Smoke copycats, or at the very least, references to his brilliant dialect that shook rap fans to the core.

In the meantime, we must mourn the loss of yet another young artist gone way too soon. And once again, I can’t imagine what his family and friends are going through. This was a guy who had just started to attain respect amongst the industry. He recently had Quavo and A Boogie wit a Hoodie on Meet the Woo 2, a stellar sequel to the 2019 mix-tape that started it all. He was just about to embark on tour and gain an even wider audience. This was all unfortunately cut short by another senseless act propagated from America’s blatant tendency to not give a fuck about rampant gun violence. But now’s not the time to feel angry and vengeful. What all of us should really do is “Shake the Room” across every bar, concert event, club and college party. Let’s celebrate Pop the only way he knew how too. Let’s spread the word of the Woo.



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