You must know what happened in Pop Smoke’s career on January 17, 2020
Yams Day is big business in New York City. The event began as a celebration of the life of architect ASAP Mob ASAP Yams, who passed away in 2015. And each year, the ASAP team books Yams favorite artists to perform alongside the most big new artists in town. It’s a great opportunity for artists to engage with thousands of fans and be legitimized on a bill filled with rap favorites. Playing there would be another seal that Pop had a legitimate claim as “King Of New York”.
In a perfect world, the red carpet would be rolled out for him as perhaps the city’s most fashionable artist at the time. Maybe the police would even escort him around the show to help him navigate smoothly behind the scenes. But in New York in 2020, he was trying to sneak past them in a show filled with thousands of people who would love to see him. His attempt failed.
“We entered the building 20 feet before anyone spotted us,” Shiv said. “And then we were arrested.” The NYPD specifically told the Barclays Center it couldn’t happen, and they were on alert for it.
“They were just like, ‘Dude, you know you can’t be here. You have to get out of here, ”said Shiv. “And [a cop] was like, ‘Look, I don’t want to stop you.’ There was a bunch of cops around and security came and they said, “Look, get in the car and go. If you go any further, we have to stop you.
Pop was already grappling with intense bail conditions from federal officials who thought he was a gang member, so he couldn’t risk a violation one day. Shiv says they left the arena “frustrated” and “really disappointed” by the ban.
“He wanted to experience this love of being on stage in New York and celebrating with his friends, artists and fans,” Shiv said. “With every step we took towards this, they kept putting up a roadblock. And it has always been extremely frustrating for him.
Pop was one of the most in-demand musicians in a city considered to be a world cultural center, but never headlined a performance in his hometown. He had to travel to London to perform with Skepta in November 2019. No matter what business heights he hit, it seemed like he couldn’t get past the perception of being a criminal.
The NYPD spawned the Hip-Hop Police, which have been monitoring performers and trying to associate them with gangs for years. Pop Smoke grew up in Canarsie, Brooklyn, a neighborhood besieged by conflict between the Wooo and Cho gangs in recent years. The cops had tried to tie his “Woo” slogan to the Wooo gang, and stigma followed him everywhere.
“Some people thought he was deeply involved in gang activity, and he wasn’t at all,” Frankel says. “But [‘Woo’] was something that was his thing and what he loved to talk about and sing and play about. This is probably a pretty good example of something that can be taken by some to mean one thing, but nothing could have been further from the truth.
“It wasn’t like he was running around committing murders or selling 100 [kis] cocaine, ”says Victor. “It was fair, there were people around. There were things going on in the neighborhood that the police felt he could have seen or could have known.
Pop toured Brooklyn that night with Shiv. With his Barclays Center debut being canceled, there was nothing else to do but reflect on the day. The night before, Pop had a blast shooting a video in Paris. But on that frosty Friday night, he drove through his native Brooklyn, faced with a stark reminder that he couldn’t sail the way he did before fame. He was a target.
“I think it became clear right after the arraignment,” says Shiv. “We drove around Brooklyn and New York for a while and stuff all night. I think that’s when it all focused on him and he realized, ‘OK, this is happening because I’m an artist that’s on an upward trajectory. They see where it leads.
While disappointed, Shiv said he remained resistant.
“At one point he was like, ‘Well, at some point they won’t be able to stop me. At some point, I’ll be so fat and they won’t be able to stop the show. We will get there and it will happen later, ”said Shiv. “So he didn’t care. I think what bothered him was if the fans thought it was something he was doing or that he didn’t want to be there or that he was trying to skip something or not. “
Frankel says that as long as he knew Pop, the artist was concerned about stereotypes applied to rappers, noting, “He had an intellectual curiosity about his case that went beyond what I was prepared for. He asked a lot of questions. Some clients do not want to talk about their case unless it is absolutely necessary, as it just depresses them and makes them anxious and stressed out. Some customers are halfway there. Pop wanted to know everything. Pop was concerned with how hip-hop artists were generally viewed as gangbangers and thugs, and that was something that really bothered him.
The two “have spent a lot of time talking about the fact that just because you’re seen in a certain way doesn’t mean you are,” Frankel adds. “He didn’t want to be seen that way. All he wanted was to focus on his career.
Ultimately, Frankel says Pop could very well have faced “a few years” for the federal charges, but he was tragically killed a month later while recording in LA. Four people, including a 15-year-old, allegedly stormed an Airbnb he was renting to steal a Cuban link chain and a Rolex watch. After Pop got into a fight with them, they allegedly shot him three times.
As his fans celebrate his legacy this month, by listening to his recently released album Faith, the cruel reality is that even if he was there to perform new music, the NYPD would try to stop him. And he probably had more volatile days ahead of him as predatory cops sought to derail his rise in the music business. Performers whose lyrics reflect violent realities are treated as if every bar is literal by the court system. In Pop’s case, the added reality of being near a shootout gave them more ammo to threaten his career in order to get the information they were looking for. The cops knew that the more he grew as an artist, the more he distanced himself from his old life, and they didn’t want him to fulfill his inevitable wish to become so tall that he was beyond their reach.
“It’s just a stereotype that, unfortunately, artists can’t seem to get away from, and it couldn’t be further from the truth,” Frankel says. “Are there any artists involved in violence or guns? Yes, of course. But you could say that about a lot of different types of people in various professions. To categorize all hip-hop artists as violent thugs and gang bangers is really just wronging yourself because nothing could be further from the truth. It’s like saying that someone who is an actor who plays villains in a movie is a villain in real life. It’s just stupid.
You can listen to the full season of “Complex Subject: Pop Smoke” on Spotify right now. You can also listen to a live chat on Pop Smoke and the series July 20 at 5:00 p.m. ET on Grenroom.