Remembering Pop Smoke, Another Essential Figure in Rap Gone Too Soon

Story posted February 23, 2020 in CommRadio, Arts & Entertainment by Caleb Wilfinger

The last three years or so have been one of the most exciting and simultaneously disconcerting times to be a fan of rap music.

On one hand, great new music from a variety of subgenres and locations is being released every week, and it feels like new, essential artists emerge on a monthly basis. 

But the last few years have also splashed cold water on the face of many rap fans, especially a younger contingent of enthusiasts.

On Wednesday, the rap community was dealt another blow as Pop Smoke, the Brooklyn rapper who was responsible for establishing Brooklyn drill as the premier subgenre in New York, was murdered in his home in Los Angeles at the age of 20.

In the span of just 18 months, the rapper from Brooklyn’s Canarsie neighborhood managed to reach heights that few before him could, going from a relative unknown to a hip-hop star.

With songs like “Welcome to the Party” and “Dior,” Pop Smoke, born Bashar Barakah Jackson, made tracks that not only set the standard for one of hip-hop’s burgeoning subgenres but also reinvigorated interest in New York hip-hop overall.

Clearly influenced by the likes of 50 Cent and Chief Keef while also being unmistakably unique, the rapper’s acclaimed mixtape “Meet the Woo” and its sequel featured blown-out, luxurious, dark U.K. drill beats and instantly infectious charisma.      

Carrying a growling baritone voice that was as commanding as it was unmissable, Pop Smoke seemed—as he proclaims on the opening track of his latest project—invincible. Until suddenly, he wasn’t.

It’s staggering to consider the losses of the last few years. Since 2017, rap music has lost Lil Peep, XXXTentacion, Mac Miller, Fredo Santana, Jimmy Wopo, Nipsey Hussle, Juice WRLD and now Pop Smoke, with most of these artists dying before the prime of their careers even started.

As a result, the rap music community has been in this place far too much lately, left trying to make sense of another life ended barely into its twenties.

Not only are an entire generation of hip-hop fans losing their idols much too early, but it also robs the world of another homegrown hero who had the potential to be one of the defining artists from New York City over the course of the next two decades.

In an interview with The Face last November, Pop Smoke said that he makes music for those who need someone to inspire them.

“I make music for that kid in the hood that’s gotta share a bedroom with like four kids—the young kids growing up in poverty,” he said. “I make music for that kid who got beef, thinking about how, when they go to school, ‘these people might try to kill me, but I still gotta get my diploma for my mom.’ I make music for kids like that, who know they just gotta keep going, that there’s a better way. That’s who I really make it for.”

Now, as Brooklyn mourns the death of one of the most promising artists to hail from the five boroughs in recent memory, this generation of young hip-hop fans will be left wondering if the next artist they turn to for inspiration will still be around in the coming years.


Caleb Wilfinger is a senior majoring in print journalism and political science. To contact him, email