Pop Smoke’s Legacy Should Be More Than A Cautionary Tale

On Tuesday morning, up and coming Brooklyn rapper Pop Smoke was killed in a Hollywood Hills home he was renting. Despite social media’s overzealous speculation, there’s no definitive information about what happened besides a TMZ report that four masked men were seen on camera barging into the home shortly after the doors were locked for the night. Media sources have speculated that it may have been a targeted hit instead of a robbery. For many, amid the sudden loss of a 20-year-old, details don’t matter. Whatever happened, it was a shame.

Born Bashar Jackson, Pop grew up in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, which he aspirationally called “Floss Angeles,.” Around 2018, he began rapping over beats from UK producer 808Melo and struck gold with “Welcome To The Party,” a gripping record that expertly bridged diasporic elements across the pond and had Brooklynites twirling on train tracks. The song owned the summer of ’19. He then followed up with “Dior” and “Christopher Walking,” proving he was no one-hit-wonder. He was ascending to national recognition after his two Welcome To The Woo projects (the latest released on February 7) and “Gatti” with Travis Scott.

Though his run was short, the impact he had in his native New York will make him a hero. He was a major figure in Brooklyn’s youth culture, using his booming voice to tell the city’s story as simply as dropping nods to in-demand brands like Amiri and Christian Dior. His husky baritone and commanding mic presence was the perfect fit for 808Melo’s atmospheric drill production. There is a slew of young drill artists in Brooklyn and London, but he surged past them into mainstream recognition for a reason.

But unfortunately, he’s become the latest loss for a New York rap scene that keeps losing its bright lights. In the modern New York hip-hop ecosystem, being a “new hope” means hoping you can actually see your career through. There were the tragic deaths of Far Rockaway rappers Stack Bundles and Chinx Drugz, friends who ultimately met the same fate of being murdered in their hometown on the cusp of stardom. Bobby Shmurda, who was arrested in a 2014 gang sweep, couldn’t escape the streets. Tekashi 6ix9ine, who faced the same penalty in 2018, was lured to them. And apparently, Pop Smoke fell prey to them. At least Bobby and 6ix9ine will have second chances.

As writer Ivie Ani noted on Twitter, there’s a quandary on “making it out the hood” and “what happens after you make it out.” Every time a rapper falls victim to violence there are cautionary tweets about all the measures artists should take to “move smart,” but the conversation rarely extends into how exhausting that has to be on any person, and what complicity we have in changing that environment. Beyond the chatter about “being on point” and staying private is the root of violence that predates any rap song: poverty. That’s what leads people toward making reckless decisions. That’s what makes people resent themselves, others, and devalue life. Instead of shortsighted tweets about adhering to a street code, what if we discussed that it comes from poverty that shouldn’t exist? This is another chance. One can talk about hating 2020 as much as they want, but these issues transcend time. They will be here until they’re addressed.

Refraining from posting certain things on social media doesn’t keep people safe. Kim Kardashian was robbed. Harry Styles was robbed. Post Malone was a target of a home invasion. LA’s “Bling Ring” stole jewelry from a slew of Hollywood celebrities. Presidents and other political figures have been assassinated. Scrutinizing the harm that people commit against each other isn’t as simple as policing an artist’s security or their social feed or weaponizing their lyrics to soapbox about “energy.”

That won’t help Pop Smoke’s loved ones make sense of his loss. His mother recently put up her house to bail him out from a charge of transporting a vehicle across state lines, and now she’s facing the worst predicament a parent could. Maybe part of his family’s solace, in time, will be that his borough will love him forever. They’ll champion him as the star that he was on the way to becoming. When it comes to celebrating the fallen, metrics don’t matter, feelings do. New Yorkers will always remember how they felt in the summer of ‘19 hearing Pop Smoke blasting out of every other car. He didn’t get to tell his full story. But Brooklyn will carry on his legacy, because his story can’t be that he didn’t get to tell his story.