The Brooklyn rapper was on the verge of an international breakthrough when he was killed in February. Here is the story of his whirlwind final months, told by those who knew him best. The rapper Pop Smoke was a leading figure in the Brooklyn drill scene. His posthumous full-length album is being released in July. By Jon Caramanica. So it was with Pop Smoke , the Canarsie growler who was the most impressive rap newcomer of In Pop Smoke, it found its most intuitive voice, someone who reveled in bad-guy bluster while using it merely as a first step toward something much more ambitious.
The songs were menacing but surprisingly fleet, a crucial balance that satisfies both ground-level fans and those peering in from outside. The speed with which hip-hop superstars like Travis Scott and Nicki Minaj were gravitating toward him for collaborations portended great things, suggesting that the king of New York might someday become the king of everywhere else, too.
His upbringing had been rough, pockmarked by frequent moving around, up-close experiences with violence and a handful of brushes with law enforcement.
The police remained interested in him as he began to experience success in music, creating a set of obstacles that would persist even as he moved farther away from his old life. Less than two weeks later, on Feb. He was 20 years old. These are edited excerpts from those conversations. Within two takes, you could see the swag just come out of nowhere. He explodes on camera. I stopped the audition right there. He can turn emotions on a dime. He could be funny. He can be mean. He gave me a thousand percent.
They were tough hour days, overnights, and he shot five overnights in a row. Kids were coming on the bridge to watch us shoot the scenes. All our actors, the extras, the kids on the bridge watching us shoot scenes, everyone was doing the Woo dance. It was pretty special. He had the actual support of the real people in the city, real gangsters, real positive people, everything in between. We believe that if the law says you can be free, then you should be able to perform at our show. Pop went to the Louis Vuitton store, I went and picked him up, and we were on our way to Queens.
We had snuck him into a couple of smaller events over the summer. But this one, it was so tense and it was so many people around. There was just no way it was going to happen quietly. We were trying to figure out what the workaround was, and, you know, it was never explicit.
OK, well, what if he just shows up with a D. What if he just comes out as a guest performer? It just was frustrating. But with him not performing, I told my D. He delivered a few memorable radio freestyles that gained traction on YouTube. He had a show in Albany. Everyone knew all the words. You really changed my life.
When I see somebody like that, I feel like I need to share my information, you know? He was like, you part of the Woo now. He knew what this moment was going to do, even maybe more so than me and Milk did in the moment.
They ended up meeting for the first time that afternoon. He met Marilyn Manson and had no idea who he was. After he finally secured a passport, his first overseas trip was to England, the home of the sound that carried him to fame. After we supplied everything, they asked for 10 more forms of identification to prove he is who he is.
We had to give his transcript from high school, his contract with Universal Music Group. I need to bring him to the U. I put the tickets on sale at a capacity venue, sells out within 10 minutes; 1, capacity — sold out again, straight away.
It was a zoo. Even U. I just remember that everyone was on their feet for the whole show, even the people up in the stands with the seats. Everyone was recording the whole time. Then he come to my shows and it was maybe 10, people. You know how the sound people do this thing sometimes where they turn it down for the opening act and turn it up for the main act?
That was lit to me. He knew everyone. He knew about new guys. He knew about M24 who is literally three months on the block. He was the missing link between the U. The U. They felt like he was part of their artist community. He was just trying to be about it — really in the streets, not no big entourage. My man came through very, very cool. But when I met him in real life I was like, wow, this is a real new age type of gangster rapper. I need to know what that feels like. Or if you want to just chill, you could chill.
Pop was very humble. When it was time to work, nothing could bother him. His voice was so different, and he could use it in so many ways. Everyone was locked in. Never got to the beach, not once. He liked a lot of styles of music, so he wanted to experiment with making other sorts of sounds just because he wanted to hear it himself. We had lunch at the Hotel Costes and a bunch of the PSG [Paris Saint-Germain] players were there having lunch and they asked to take pictures with him. I remember I was on FaceTime with him.
Complete opposite. He just stayed there. When Pop Smoke returned from Paris on Jan. You get the printout when you go through the machine and both of us came back with an X on it. They come out and ask for him by name and bring him into the back room. He got out in the afternoon. We tried to sneak into Yams Day, too. The plan was to walk in through the front door, and then we would somehow get backstage.
Otherwise we have to arrest you. He was fully taking it in stride. He had a very street-smart attitude when it comes to the police. They told him as much. I think Pop was at peace with the reality that he was always going to be interrogated and a source of their interest, because he knew that he would never give anyone any information about anybody. The chances of you going to jail is very low. LUST We were making no more mistakes.
He very much had self control. I feel like it was definitely agents in those clubs, people who looked extremely out of place. One night we were at Booby Trap and we had some people from a streaming company and some label execs from Universal, not your typical crowd at 4 a. And there was detectives who looked even more out of place to me than those guys did, you know?
The day after his airport arrest, Pop Smoke had a meeting with someone who would permanently alter his perspective on his career: 50 Cent. Because when I first started talking to him in the office, I was watching and he would look down at his telephone.
He was typing at the same time. Dead serious.