Pop Smoke, a fast-rising Brooklyn rapper who hit the top 10 on the Billboard 200 for this first time just this week, was killed early Wednesday morning in Los Angeles, his record label confirmed.
“We are devastated by the unexpected and tragic loss of Pop Smoke. Our prayers and thoughts go out to his family, friends and fans, as we mourn this loss together,” Republic Records wrote in a statement.
Although the Los Angeles Police Department did not specifically confirm his death, a spokesperson said officers were called to a home in the Hollywood Hills after receiving a call reporting a home invasion. When they arrived six minutes later, they discovered a man between the age of 20 and 30 had been shot. The man was then taken to Cedars Sinai Medical Center, where he was later pronounced dead. No suspects were arrested at the scene.
The 20-year-old rapper, born Basher Barakah Jackson, was born in Brooklyn and raised in Canarsie. He came to prominence last summer thanks to the song “Welcome to the Party,” which quickly became a raucous anthem in Brooklyn and beyond. The song, with its frenetic tempo and aggressive multisyllabic attack, was emblematic of the burgeoning Brooklyn drill rap movement, a subgenre in the midst of birthing several rising stars.
As “Welcome to the Party” gained momentum, several remixes were released by prominent artists, including Nicki Minaj, and Skepta. In December, TIME named the original version one of the best songs of 2019.
But Pop Smoke wasn’t just a one-hit wonder: other songs like “Dior” and “GATTI” with Travis Scott racked up millions of streams over the last year. On each song, he wielded his instantly recognizable rapping style: gravelly, resonant and melodic, with syllables flying out in clipped bursts of manic energy. And this month, Pop Smoke released a follow-up mixtape on Republic Records, Meet the Woo 2, that featured Quavo and A Boogie Wit da Hoodie. The album, buoyed by huge streaming numbers, zoomed to number 7 on the Billboard 200.
Yet the rapper’s fast rise was not without controversy. The police seemed to follow him wherever he went: In 2019, the New York Times reported that Pop Smoke had to wear an ankle bracelet as part of a diversion program connected to a weapons charge, which was eventually dismissed. In October, the NYPD demanded that he be removed from the lineup of the hip-hop festival Rolling Loud in Queens due to “public safety concerns.” In January, he was arrested at Kennedy International Airport and charged with transporting a stolen vehicle across state lines; he pleaded not guilty and was released on bail.
During a hearing in the case in Brooklyn last month, a federal prosecutor said the government believed Pop Smoke to be a member of a street gang affiliated with the Crips, the Los Angeles Times reported. In his 2020 song “Armed N Dangerous,” Pop Smoke rapped, “Everybody know I’m Crip.”
Pop Smoke had been slated to start a tour in two weeks. In a New York Times interview last September, Pop Smoke said he wanted to make music for young people who “got to carry their guns to school because it ain’t safe, but they still got to make sure they get they diploma ’cause they mom could be happy. I do it for them.”
His death comes in the wake of the deaths of several other young rappers over the last few years from drug overdoses or violence, including Mac Miller, XXXTentacion, Juice WRLD, Nipsey Hussle and Lil Peep. “Prayers up, yet again,” the rapper and podcast host Joe Budden wrote on Twitter.
Many other musicians paid their respects on social media.
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