Born and raised in Brooklyn, Pop Smoke's rise to the top of New York's burgeoning drill scene captured the attention of the rap world. Riding the wave of "Welcome To The Party" and "Dior"," he entered the 2020s as one of the most exciting and unique MCs. Quickly becoming one of the marquee names in rap, his sound took over the nation. Later influencing the likes of Kanye West to drive into drill music, he took the genre and put his own energetic spin on it.
Blending drill and trap into an electric sound, he released his debut mixtape 'Meet the Woo' in 2019, He would soon follow up the breakout record with it's sequel, 'Meet the Woo 2.' With so much ahead for Pop Smoke (whose full name is Bashar Jackson), he was tragically shot to death in his Hollywood Hills home on February 19, 2020. His first full-length, studio album would release months after his passing. 'Shoot for the Moon, Aims for the Stars' debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200, with first-week sales reaching over 250,000. Executive-produced by 50 Cent, the albums' booming success had obvious dark undertones in the fact that it would be the last record with full input from Pop Smoke.
There's no denying that Pop Smoke is one of the biggest what if stories in rap. While he only released music for a few years, he was able to curate a heavy catalogue of bangers within a brief span of time. We can only wonder at where he would've taken the sound over the coming decade. Today, we dive into the ten best songs from his vault.
It's impossible to mention Pop Smoke's career without brining up "Dior." The sixth track on his debut mixtape, 'Meet the Woo.' Featuring a nasty violin sample and menacing 808, this song could be heard on stereo speakers in clubs across the country in 2019. Of course, it wasn't only the production that made this track so unique. Pop Smoke's ability to switch from rapid verses to catchy adlibs on a dime made the synergy on this track immediately ear-catching.
With bars such as "Christian Dior, Dior, I'm all up in the stores,' Pop Smoke immediately embraced his new lifestyle. Of course, his constant flexing is doesn't come off as egotistical considering his rough upbringing. Expelled from school in eighth grade, many counted him out before he even got to high-school.
Welcome to the Party
The second most streamed song off of breakout mixtape 'Meet the Woo,' 'Welcome to the Party' is another drill-based banger. Pop Smoke was iconic for his recognizable hooks and memorizable lyrics. His uniquely deep and menacing voice cut through just about anything. This track is a hallmark example of that, as he flexes his lavish lifestyle. Mumbling "I the boy up then I go skate in a rari," it's impossible not to jump around to this absolute banger.
While "Dior" ended being his most-streamed track, "Welcome to the Party" is the track that really put the New York drill scene on the map. Pop Smoke addressed the hook ("I'm of the Molly, the Xan, the Lean that's why I'm movin' retarded") in a Genius interview, stating "when you come from my neighborhood, people take drugs to ease their pain." For all of the critics of his drug and gun-related lyricism, he's not glorifying that lifestyle. The intention is to shine light on the environment he grew up in.
The seventh and final track off of the 'JACKBOYS' mixtape, 'Gatti' was met with mixed reviews after the tape initially hit streaming services. At the time, Pop Smoke's New York drill was still relatively fresh in the mainstream scene. His unique voice and drill production threw the more traditional trap audience of 'JACKBOYS' for a loop. The collaboration opened up a number of doors for Pop Smoke to work with other big-name artists, such as Travis Scott and Don Toliver.
'Gatti' was another prime example of how unique Pop Smoke's voice was. Rapping alongside some of the shortlisted names in the industry (Don Toliver, Travis Scott, etc), his presence stood out amongst the crowd. Featuring an intricate drill beat, his relentless flow fits perfectly with the production. Travis Scott would later honor Pop Smoke's memory with a new Dior Collection back in 2021.
Much of 'Shoot for the Moon, Aim for the Stars' implemented more of a melodic sound rather than the cohesive ragers of his 'Meet the Woo' mixtapes. Being his first studio release, he often takes a backseat for the likes of Quavo or Lil Baby. However, "44 Bulldog" was a welcome exception to this. Pop Smoke takes the forefront from start to finish. "44 Bulldog" references a British pocket revolver; Pop Smoke's crime-ridden upbringing meant he was no stranger to gun violence. Growing up in a violent neighborhood, it's only natural that much of his songwriting references this.
Menacing piano chords introduce us to a track that immediately draws the listener in. The overtly loud ad-libs add a unique oddity the song, sometimes overtaking his verses. The devilish, slick lyricism from Pop Smoke highlights where he's at his very best as a rapper. Lines such as "I kicked her out 'cause I'm allergic to the cuffin'" or "I ain't talk with the talk or the chit-chat" aid to the powerful aura that Pop Smoke created around himself.
It's hard to miss the 50 Cent influence on "Gangstas." You can tell that the Brooklyn-born rapper is a student of the bling-era sound, he does the sound so much justice. Twinkling piano keys lead into a bass-boosted banger. Coming right after "44 Bulldog," the track blends the early 2000s bling-era with Pop Smoke's modern drill sound. In fact, 50 Cent's imprint is heavy on 'Shoot for the Moon, Aim for the Stars.' Largely contributing as an executive producer, he also delivered a feature on 'The Woo,' which also features Lil Baby.
Pop Smoke isn't messing around lyrically on this track, either. Mirroring 50 Cent's early 2000s lyricism, he portrays himself as a sort of ring leader of the New York rap scene with bars such as "I'm the f**kin voice of the streets, it's like Jesus walkin'" or "six by six, big Benz on my wrist." While much of the album dives into the aforementioned melodic sound, he's at his best when he dives head-first into nasty drill bangers.
The third track from his debut mixtape, "Hawk Em" is undoubtedly one of the more overlooked tracks in his discography. Blending an echoing snare, distant piano chords, and a booming bass, it's one of Pop Smoke's more straightforward drill tracks. Eerily familiar to "Off the Grid" off of 'Donda', Pop Smoke goes after a slightly faster flow than normal. The track sounds simple in 2023, as the sub-genre exploded since this mixtape's release. However, the blend of Chicago and UK drill still sounded ground-breaking back in 2019.
"Hawk Em" is a prime example of why a track doesn't need to be overly complex to be enjoyable. The track gets straight to the point, as Pop Smoke can be pictured strolling through New York City as a "gentlemen and a gangster." Even at this early stage of his career, his unique and fleeting rhymes were making waves in the East Coast drill scene.
Got It On Me
One of the biggest tracks off of 'Shoot for the Moon, Aim for the Stars,' killer flows and vocal lines populate "Got It On Me." A direct tribute to 50 Cent's classic hook off of "Many Men," Pop Smoke interpolates 50 Cent's iconic hook. He more than does the original hook justice, adding a unique spin to it with his growling voice. The track features relentless flows and killer lyrics. There's a definite DMX influence to the uncompromising energy of the track. A sampled choir makes it's way into the production, adding a triumphant yet eerie feel to the track.
"Got It On Me" had actually been sitting in Pop Smoke's vault for 2+ years before it's release. 50 Cent was shocked when he heard Pop Smoke's version of the recording, which prompted the two meeting for future collaborations. The sole producer of the track, "Young Devante," said that the beat was initially created with Meek Mill's style in mind. Pop Smoke pleads for mercy and taunts his enemies simultaneously, making the hit track one of his more lyrically complex songs.
The first track off of 'Meet the Woo 2', "Invincible" blends a violin sample with a nasty drill beat. The track is fierce, bold, and unapologetic in every way imaginable. In many ways, it sonically parallels "Dior." As the title implies, Pop Smoke depicts feeling "Invincible." The track is a 2-minute long ode to his wild lifestyle. He is essentially idealizing money, women, and power. Depicting himself walking through Brooklyn, his sudden fame has given him an undeniable sense of being unstoppable.
All of this is undercut by his reference to "percs" at the beginning of the song. This implies that his feeling of invincibility primarily exists due to him being on drugs. In fact, his not-to-subtle references to drugs throughout his discography are often expressed as a piece of darkness within his daily life. "Invincible" is best played on a set of loud speakers at a house party, and is yet another menacing banger in Pop Smoke's discography.
What You Know Bout Love
Raised in a 90s era when the genre was still at it's peak, it's not a surprise that he tried his hand at the R&B sound. The softer production mirrors the sincere lyricism. He speaks about his infatuation with his lover, and eagerness to please her. Previously criticized as being slightly one dimensional in his flow patterns, "What You Know Bout Love" silenced the critics by highlighting his vocal talents, as he delivers a heartfelt chorus amidst twinkling synths.
Pop Smoke's second top-10 single, the track peaked at number nine of the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Well-known for rapping about violence or power, the track represents an interesting diversion from his traditional songwriting. Perfect for a backyard BBQ or a summer drive with the windows down, the track really solidified his distinctiveness of a rapper.
Pop Smoke's collaborations were admittedly hit or miss during his career. However, Smoke and Lil Tjay coming together always meant fireworks. The two rap about intimidating people in the New York streets. Blending Smoke croaky rhymes with Lil Tjay's humming, the two 's directly contrasting voices make for a frenzied track.
Initially releasing in 2019, the track would later release as a bonus cut off of 'Meet the Woo 2.' It's worth noting how eye-catching and downright fun the music video for this track is. The video cuts from Smoke and Tjay waltzing around a grandeur mansion, to riding motorcycles in the New York streets.