19 February 2020 20:59
If Bashar Barakah Jackson did study the New York rap playbook, it was so he could renounce all its lessons. Forged in Brooklyn – a most blessed land in hip-hop history – this musical risk-taker took up the name Pop Smoke and pursued a singular style outside of all east coast rap conventions. Now, he'll forever be mourned in a borough that knows all too well what it's like to lose legends before their time. US rapper Pop Smoke, 20, shot and killed in home invasion Read more Pop's partnership with London producer 808MeloBeats was a match made in hip-hop heaven. Heisting the murky sounds of UK drill sounds – shadowy synths, gritty drums, swallowing womp-womp effects – the pair blazed a new form of New York City rap best exemplified by Pop's breakthrough muscle and brawn hit, Welcome to the Party.
Since its release last year, the song has crumbled pavements from Flatbush to Bed-Stuy, its power mostly drawn from Pop's voice: an impossibly gruff thing that sounded half 50 Cent, half cacodemon. He rapped like someone who had no problem welcoming gloaming into the soul, a chilling sense of doom embedded into those thick vocal cords. Yet reports emerging that Pop, just 20 years old, was shot and killed in his Hollywood Hills house last night by two masked men in what appears to be a home-invasion robbery are shocking in their senselessness and brutality. How could this happen? How could that voice – so forceful, so unbending – now be silenced forever? Hailing from Brooklyn's Canarsie neighbourhood, the son of a Jamaican mother and a Panamanian father saw his promising high school basketball career derailed when he was diagnosed with a heart murmur. There was a notable incident in his formative years when a video of him being slapped on the street by kids gained viral traction. Unwilling stars of internet fame rarely find any positives from the experience, but the clip's reach seemed to add extra steel to Pop. "I'm glad it happened as a kid," he said in a New York Times profile. "I realised it's time to boss up – life ain't sweet." His brief existence included two years under house arrest on a gun charge, yet the man who claimed he was kicked out of eighth grade for bringing a firearm to class asserted his hopes to make music for all the young people who "got to carry their guns to school because it ain't safe, but they still got to make sure they get they diploma 'cause they mom could be happy". Facebook Twitter Pinterest Photograph: Earl Gibson III/Rex/Shutterstock To invoke the cliche that Pop's rise was meteoric seems insufficient – it was so much faster than that. His recording career was only months old when Welcome to the Party dropped, yet nobody who knows anything about Pop would tether his success to one viral hit. Every record showed he had charisma to burn. Like 50 Cent, Pop could be a walking hook machine. The vicious Dior painted high-fashion threads as a street hustler's uniform; Christopher Walking played like an evil version of 50s sci-fi single Ayo Technology and saw Pop declare himself king of New York, that most deified of hip-hop crowns, synonymous with his regional forefather the Notorious BIG. Pop was nothing if not supremely confident. And while it's fair to say he had room to develop more ripples to his artistry, he leaves behind two tapes in Meet The Woo and Meet The Woo 2 that clearly laid out his sonic philosophy and threatened to push New York hip-hop into strange new places. Maybe they still will. That'll be the legacy. Pop Smoke was due to go on tour next month, increasing his reach and visibility. As devastation has had it, he joins recent fallen rappers Mac Miller, Lil Peep, the problematic XXXTentacion, Nipsey Hussle and Juice WRLD – mostly very young men who were making music that helped define their generation. Rap has suffered losses incalculable to the culture. It's impossible not to consider how different the landscape of the next 20 years would be had they lived to help design it. In the tragedy of Pop Smoke, all there is to cling to is the records he left behind and reminder that few people have done so much with so little.