Long Live the Woo
This article originally appeared on Sydney's personal blog, Syd Honcho, and was re-published with permission.
It’s honestly surreal that I’m writing yet another tribute post to another fallen star. Less than a month after the tragic death of basketball icon Kobe Bryant, hip-hop lost one of its newest assets. Budding rap star Pop Smoke was killed during a home invasion in California; his death was the result of a gunshot wound to the chest.
Whether his murder was random or premeditated remains unknown, but his absence has been felt immensely in Brooklyn and throughout the country. Considering his youth (He was only 20-years-old!) and his potential for a bright, successful music career, his untimely death sent shock waves through his fan base and the local New York rap scene.
Pop Smoke was New York’s rising star. After his breakout hit "Welcome to the Party" penetrated the city’s airwaves and club scene in Summer 2019, the self-proclaimed “King of New York” had been on an unstoppable trajectory. He dropped his debut mixtape "Meet the Woo" in 2019 and released a sequel, appropriately titled "Meet the Woo 2," just a few weeks prior to his death in February 2020. Some of the most notable songs in Smoke’s catalog included "Dior," "War" (feat. Lil Tjay) and most recently, "Christopher Walking."
Many considered Pop Smoke to be a savior for New York’s local hip-hop scene. The same city that dominated rap music and culture in the 90s/00s lost some of its allure in recent years. While fans put their faith in artists such as A$AP Mob, Bobby Shmurda, and Dave East to potentially reclaim New York’s reputation as a hip-hop powerhouse, in reality, cities such as Atlanta, Chicago, and Miami willfully gained respect as epicenters for breeding new hip-hop talent and music in recent years.
New York lacked the musical and cultural influence it previously maintained, but Pop Smoke’s meteoric rise indicated the possibility for a true revitalization of the city’s local music setting.
Honestly, Pop Smoke was just different. He was a trailblazer in his own way. He was in the process of pioneering Brooklyn’s own version of drill music, which is a sub-genre of trap music that originated in Chicago and became increasingly popular in the UK recently. Smoke’s partnership with British super-producer 808 Melo helped him craft a drill sound that was unique and exclusive to his signature resonance.
His gruff voice, his gritty lyrics, and his appearance often drew parallels to a young 50 Cent, who recently had become a mentor to Smoke. His demeanor exuded a level of swagger and confidence that revealed he was destined for stardom. Few could deny the power of his presence; he transcended the norm and was on his way to creating a lane of his own.
Anyone who has had a conversation with me recently can attest to my deep admiration for Pop Smoke. Truly, he was a rare celebrity that I found myself fangirling. When my close friends came to visit me for my birthday in January, all we did was play Dior on repeat the entire weekend. About a month ago, I attended a networking mixer, and a young man introduced himself and said he was from Canarsie. Excitedly, I exclaimed, “That’s where Pop Smoke is from!” LOL you would’ve thought I knew Smoke personally. I REALLY loved that man forreal.
Truthfully, my reverence for Pop Smoke surpasses the surface level appreciation of his music. As a Brooklyn transplant who’s just been trying to navigate this space without getting overwhelmed, Pop Smoke has motivated me to immerse myself in local New York culture with hopes of finding a true sense of belonging.
Listening to his music and learning his signature dance moves helped me identify more closely with the community surrounding me. As my love for Pop Smoke grew exponentially, I found myself feeling like less of a foreigner here; instead, I was able to relate to the people and the culture with the spirit of a local. When DJs play Pop Smoke’s songs at clubs, I’m able to turn up among the most native New Yorkers, and there’s something so gratifying about that. Considering how difficult moving to New York has been for me, I became grateful for an entity that finally helped me feel at home.
Pop Smoke bridged a personal gap between myself and a city that can be demanding and gut-wrenching.
On that note, I’m happy to say that I was able to witness Pop Smoke’s impact firsthand. It’s heartbreaking when a young, talented artist loses his life over a senseless act. Although the world will never know the true scope of Pop Smoke’s reach, we’re all appreciative that we were able to capture his potential. He may not have truly known the extent of his impact, but there’s no doubt that Pop Smoke’s legacy will live forever.
To the young King of New York – you will truly be missed. Thank you for permeating the culture and leaving your mark on Brooklyn forever. Long live the Woo!