Artist of the Week: Pop Smoke

Adrianne Kristianto, Social Media Coordinator

Born Bashar Barakah Jackson, the Brooklynite rapper Pop Smoke was gunned down on Wednesday morning, Feb. 19, in his Hollywood Hills home days after he released his sophomore mixtape, “Meet the Woo 2.” Only 20 years old, the “Dior” rapper had released two mixtapes in total, “Meet the Woo” (2019) and “Meet the Woo 2” (2020). Both mixtapes gained massive approval from hip-hop enthusiasts all over New York and ultimately the whole nation in just under a year.

With a voice that recalled 50 Cent and DMX, Smoke’s unruly vocals assertively narrated the whole scene for drill music – a subgenre of trap music originated from the South Side of Chicago – when the culture was heavily driven by melodies. Barely starting his career, Pop Smoke was taken away when he was at an ascendant place in his career. Aside from “Meet the Woo 2” debuting at number seven on the U.S. Billboard 200 and number five on the U.S. Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, Pop Smoke was the anchor in “GATTI,” a song from the compilation album “JACKBOYS” by Travis Scott’s label group, Cactus Jack. A match made in heaven, his collaboration with London producer 808Melo resulted in something vibrantly ominous: “Welcome to the Party,” the infamous 2019 summer anthem.This breakout single debuted at number five on the U.S. Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles, racking up millions of streams in just a few days. As several rappers like Skepta, Rico Nasty, and Dave East did their own rendition of the breakout single, Pop Smoke also worked alongside the Queens native, Nicki Minaj, who also did a remix of the song.

Of Jamaican and Panamanian descent, Pop Smoke combined his gravelly, sonorous vocals with the Chicago and London drill sonics in his music — dense, sub-bass layered kick drums, dark melodic strings to promote a sullen ambience and syncopated, fluttering hi-hats. Though some may believe drill music incites violent crime, Pop Smoke thought otherwise.

Pop Smoke, who had a movie project in the works, was a multi-faceted rapper. As fans mourned the late rapper’s tragic murder, they revisited the emcee catalog on Genius, raising his daily pageviews from almost 25,000 to more than 100,000 in a day. Several rappers and singers, like 50 Cent and Nicki Minaj, commented on the unfortunate news on social media.

A life too brief, Pop Smoke was hungry for what success had in store for him — a rising star with an apt mentality to always improve. Rest in power, Pop.