Pop Smoke live in London: Brooklyn rapper atones for tardiness with a buoyant, loved-up spectacle

Islington Assembly Hall, November 27

With two summer anthems this year, Brooklyn rapper Pop Smoke has been the name on everyone’s lips. Whether you were flinging your feet to ‘Welcome to the Party’ or know ‘Dior’ word-for-word, you can’t deny his catchy drill tunes. After releasing his debut mixtape ‘Meet the Woo’ back in July, it was only right that this London crowd should have a special night with Smoke.

Lucky for him that there was a sense of anticipation: there’s a three-hour wait for the rapper to take to the stage. Radio 1Xtra’s DJ Semtex keeps boredom at bay with US and UK trap and drill, but the crowd does get restless.

There’s a little booing, a few murmurs of “I wanna leave” and a tiny scuffle that risks the show being cut short. It doesn’t help that, when we think the rapper’s about to appear,  there is instead another DJ set, this time from Smoke’s own DJ. It’s actually better than Semtex’s, consisting mainly of US rap, but by now the crowd’s sick of DJ sets. Where the hell is Pop Smoke?

Eventually the valiant rapper comes out all guns blazing to ‘Meet The Woo’. The opening track is an exhilarating combination of racing drill notes atop punchy 808s. He’s decked out in fancy designer gear – an open shirt and ripped jeans with a cheetah-print stripe and Pop Smoke’s diamond chains danced along with him and – Smoke’s diamond chains danced along with him

Moving from the baleful likes of ‘Hawk Em’ to the more soulful (if such a word can be used of drill) track ‘PTSD’. He reaches out to the crowd, who are singing along, a heartfelt shared between him and his London fans. And then it’s back to Smoke’s aggressive music.

He causes mass hysteria with ‘MPR’, many mosh pits opening up in response. The hysterics continue for the following songs – especially ‘Scenario’, an underrated track on the mixtape ‘Meet The Woo’. Every time he raps, “Tell Dread lift him“, our fingers point up; the crowd’s united once more.

Smoke even rolls out his Fire In The Booth freestyle. Attacking Headie One and RV’s ‘Know Better’ beat, the New Yorker gave us a snippet of how berserk he can be. This is followed by a silence before Smoke’s penultimate track. There’s a moment of confusion, and then Pop Smoke booms through the opening lyrics to ‘Dior’, this summer’s party.

To close, Pop Smoke shows his signature gruff in his voice on the viral hit ‘Welcome To The Party’. It’s amazing, but the track ends way too quickly. Did we really wait this long for a 45-five-minute set?

But the venues full of devoted fans reciting his songs like their lives depended on it; a Pop Smoke show seems to be one that is heartfelt and full of endless love. When it comes to London, we love Pop Smoke like he’s our own – and for now, at least, it seems Pop Smoke is the king of drill.

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