From the gravelly voice to the charismatic creez to the invigorating sound, Pop Smoke‘s music and starpower was a cheat code that timed out way too fast. In just under two years, the Brooklyn rapper helped elevate Brooklyn drill music to mainstream heights, became an on-command caption machine and reignited New York City’s rap scene.
One year ago today (Feb. 19), Pop Smoke was shot and killed during a home invasion in Los Angeles. Though his special talent quickly took him from the cold streets of Canarsie to the Hollywood hills, his story was cut short on the other side of the map at the expense of an ill-fated crime.
While he was here, Pop earned tons of respect in his homeland. And given Zoo York’s track record for being a diamond mine of talent, that is always a tall, credible task to conquer for any new artist. With songs like “Welcome to the Party” and “Dior,” he leveled up the status of drill higher than ever before. Now, the game’s top faces like Travis Scott, Drake and Nicki Minaj have followed suit, further evidencing that impact.
“I gave it a face and I gave it an identity,” Pop Smoke told XXL last year about the subgenre. “It’s been done before, but nobody did it like I did it, from where we from. I gave it that ‘grrrr.’”
Over the last month, XXL talked to fellow NYC-bred rappers who either came up beside Pop or witnessed his movement fire off. The result is many thoughtful quotes in remembrance of the Woo artist.
With such a remarkable rise to fame and music to back the hype, Pop got a huge cosign from 50 Cent, who took on the task of executive producing his debut album, Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon, released posthumously last summer. “It was like watching magic,” Fif says of witnessing his meteoric rise.
Elsewhere, OG’s like Maino caught wind of how special the young spitter was too, even off the mic. Remembering a Meek Mill studio session in L.A. that the three of them attended, Maino remembers, “He had a lot of young fresh energy. He didn’t have a 20-year-old aura to me. He felt older than he was.”
Pop’s maturity was a contagious quality that his peers admired too. From day one, the former hooper moved like a vet and fed his friends all of the knowledge that he would acquire over meetings with so many people. “He was talking like he was a natural, like he had been doing it. He treated this shit like it was already his,” Fivio Foreign adds.
Now that he’s gone, rappers in his hometown vow to continue holding the light of his legacy high. “My boy came into the game, and everything changed,” Jay Gwuapo recalls, as someone who pushed Pop to get in the studio at first. “He brung a whole new vibe to the game.”
Luckily, the Meet the Woo 2 maker lit a fire under many artists in the city, one that’s still flaming heavily. “It’s sad to lose a brother. But his legacy is still going to live on through me and everyone who’s still pushing. We’re going to keep it going for Pop,” Rah Swish, a close friend of the slain rapper, says proudly.
As we continue to celebrate the Brooklyn prophet, both respected and rising New York rappers share their thoughts on Pop Smoke and his still ballooning legacy below. Scroll down to see what they had to say. And long live Pop Smoke.
See 50 Cent and More New York Rappers Weigh In a Year After Pop Smoke’s Death