As unfortunate as it is, the hip hop and rap communities face an incredibly high level of violence and crime. So many talented individuals have had their lives cut short and have lost everything they worked so hard to cultivate due to senseless and unnecessary violence. From the first rap feuds in the eighties and nineties to the present day, names like Tupac Shakur and Nipsey Hussle are household names because of the fact that they were murdered at such young ages and during such successful musical careers. Another name that was recently in the headlines was that of Pop Smoke, a young man who made a name for himself in the hip hop and drill genres, who was also murdered.
Who Was Pop Smoke
Born Bashar Barakah Hackson in July 1999, Pop Smoke was a rapper, singer, and songwriter. He was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Like so many of his counterparts, his childhood and formative years were incredibly difficult. He was expelled from eighth grade for bringing a gun into school and was charged with possession of weapons, spending two years on house arrest. A few years later he was awarded a basketball scholarship to Rocktop Academy in Philadelphia, but gave up on that shortly after he started, instead choosing to sell drugs.
Because his early years were so difficult, it was possible for him to channel a lot of his experiences into his music, creating a vibe that his audience found relatable. This is undoubtedly why a lot of rap and hip hop artists get so popular: they create music that a wide variety of normal people can relate to. And even though the lifestyles they lead as celebrities is not realistic for most, the message they communicate still helps people connect. Unfortunately, the lifestyle is also very closely tied to criminal activity which is something that too many people emulate in an attempt to get clout.
Pop Smoke’s Musical Career
Hackson’s stage name came from a combination of the nickname his grandmother had for him (Poppa) and Smoke, the nickname several of his childhood friends gave him. He began producing music in 2018 and got several connections within the music industry. He released his first real popular single “Welcome to the Party” in April of 2019. Because of this success, he garnered the attention of record labels, and eventually signed a deal with Victor Victor Worldwide and Republic Records.
His first mixtape was Meet the Woo, which he also released in 2019. “Dior” from that mixtape reached number 22 on the Billboard Hot 100, so it is clear that he was fairly popular. He released his second mixtape, Meet the Woo 2 in 2020, and it debuted at number seven on Billboard 200. However, his musical career was cut short because of his murder just two weeks later in his home in Los Angeles.
He has several collaborative projects, including featuring Nicki Minaj on his most popular single, “Welcome to the Party”. These kinds of projects served to boost his popularity quite substantially, and were partially responsible for the amount of attention his music got. Other artists he worked with were Quavo, Lil Tjay, and Travis Scott.
And for anyone that has not heard of him and might not think he was ever recognized in the spotlight, think again. He was nominated for a 2020 BET Award for Best New Artist, however he did not win; Roddy Ricch won that award this year.
Finally, his debut album was released posthumously on his birthday this year. According to RapTV, the deluxe version contains 15 brand new tracks, including collaborations with Davido, A Boogie wit da Hoodie, and Jamie Foxx. The album is titled Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon. Even 50 Cent has taken to social media to comment on the album’s release and its somewhat controversial artwork.
Like so many other people disproportionately targeted by the criminal justice system, Pop Smoke was no stranger to controversy and criminal charges. Other than his arrest in eighth grade for which he served two years on house arrest, he was also arrested in January of 2020 in connection to an investigation into whether or not he transported a stolen vehicle. He allegedly used a Rolls-Royce Wraith for a video shoot and then never returned the vehicle, posting about using it in New York on Instagram and Facebook. He pled guilty and posted bail the same day, but the court case never went anywhere due to his murder just weeks later.
Pop Smoke’s Murder
According to TMZ, Pop Smoke was murdered in a home invasion by four masked gunmen at around 4:30 in the morning. His home was broken into and multiple shots were fired. He was taken to a nearby hospital with several gunshot wounds and pronounced dead upon mere hours after his arrival. The men who broke in were then seen fleeing on foot.
The circumstances surrounding his death were somewhat shocking but also sadly predictable. Just hours before his death, Pop Smoke was mugged in the driveway of the home that he was later shot in. He and a friend were carrying thousands of dollars in bills in a picture that probably led to the mugging. Even more shocking was that Pop Smoke had taken to social media to post the address of the home earlier in the day, flexing not only the home but the money he had just made and all the gift bags that were piled everywhere near him due to the fact that he had just reached the number seven spot on Billboard’s 200 chart.
Several celebrities spoke out or released statements about his death, including Nicki Minaj, who said, “The Bible tells us that jealousy is as cruel as the grave. Unbelievable. Rest in Peace, Pop.”
According to RapTV, the Los Angeles Police Department has arrested five people as of July, two of them under the age of 18 years old, in connection to Smoke’s murder in February.
Pop Smoke’s Legacy
According to those who knew him best and who admired his music, Pop Smoke was incredibly influential within his sphere. His work ethic was widely praised as well, and Danny Schwartz of The Ringer said, “he conquered New York rap and gave the city the kind of readymade and potentially defining star it hadn’t seen in years.” Many believed that he represented his city better than so many of his peers. Combine that with his go and get it attitude and his musical talent, Pop Smoke leaves behind a legacy for his fans to follow and to admire.
Even though his life was tragically cut short at only twenty years old, Pop Smoke accomplished a lot in his two decades on earth. He created a unique sound that exemplified his city and his perspective without losing sight of real life. He did not alienate his fans, and they loved him to the extent that over a thousand people attended his funeral.