He was a once-in-a-generation talent, his impact on hip hop almost immediate, and the late Pop Smoke’s guttural bark was a unique, powerful thing.
But earlier this week, before the MC has a chance to redefine a new New York sound, he was murdered at the tender age of 20. Since his irrepressible banger ‘Welcome To The Party’, went viral last summer, every single one of his follow-up tracks sounded like a hit. He dominated playlists, was a club DJ go-to and seemed all set to be the future of hip-hop and potential new king of New York thanks to his ferocious Brooklyn-born brand of drill. And ‘Meet The Woo Vol. 2’, his mixtape released earlier this month, heralded a talent who had so much more to offer.
He leaves behind him a small but potent body of work. Whether you’re a fan already or diving in for the first time, remember him by these 10 tracks.
With minimal, bass-heavy production from 808 Melo, ‘Dior’ catapulted Pop Smoke deep into the spotlight. It’s a brash stand-out from 2019’s ‘Meet The Woo’ mixtape, and Smoke’s voice here feels surreal and almost mutated, until you realise that’s just him.
2) ‘Welcome To The Party’
This tune made the hip-hop world stand up and pay attention to Pop Smoke’s charisma and talent. It was immediately evident that Smoke was destined for bigger things thanks to infectious production and lyrics that tuned audiences into Smoke’s party lifestyle. Arguably, the song of last summer.
3) ‘Christopher Walking’
Released earlier this year, ‘Christopher Walking’ was a confirmation of Smoke’s talent. While taking shots at rival Brooklyn rappers Casanova and Smoove L, Smoke compared himself to Christopher Walken’s character in the 1990 crime film King of New York.
Travis Scott was quick to jump on the Pop Smoke bandwagon, enlisting him to feature on the JackBoys compilation track ‘Gatti’. Here Pop Smoke outshines all his cohorts and it’s no wonder he gets most of the spotlight, with Scott’s verse reduced to a mere after-thought. This was Smoke’s first hit on the US Billboard 100 and with good reason.
Buried at the end of his ‘Meet The Woo’ mixtape, ‘PTSD’ is pretty atypical when it comes to Pop Smoke’s discography; he doesn’t rap but rather uses a spoken-word approach to talk about the trauma he endured growing up.
6) ‘Mannequin’ [feat. Lil Tjay]
Flipping Ariana Grande’s ‘7 Rings’, this 808Melo production is another left-field take. Grande’s voice is mixed in, sounding like a support feature to complement Smoke and Tjay’s verses and ad-libs. It’s another indicator of the unique chemistry 808Melo and Pop Smoke enjoyed.
7) ‘MPR (Panic Part 3 Remix)’
“I need that money, power, respect,” Pop Smoke repeated on this Sheff G, Sleepy Hallow and Fresh G remix. Pop Smoke keeps it simple over another club-ready beat with an extended verse blocked by two infectious choruses. The sad foreshadowing of the line “Know some n*ggas that shoot you for nothin” feels all the more heart-wrenching now.
With his cocky, boisterous bark, Smoke’s voice was usually complemented by production that matches the weight of his voice, but on ‘Invincible’ he raps about his ties to the Crips and shouts out DJs over elegant, cinematic strings.
9) ‘War’ [feat. Lil TJay]
Delivered over a slow beat, Pop’s croak perfectly complements Lil Tjay’s rapid-fire rhymes, making for a frenzied combination. Pop threatens his haters, letting them know that “I make a call and it’s war / And, n*gga, you can check the score”.
10) ‘Shake The Room’ [feat. Quavo]
Getting a Quavo co-sign on ‘Shake The Room’, Pop Smoke easily outshines the Migos veteran. A highlight on his ‘Meet The Woo 2’ mixtape, here Smoke and Quavo trade verses, hitting the chorus together. Pop Smoke was an astonishing talent, taken way too soon. RIP.