In the early hours of February 19, Pop Smoke was shot and killed during a home invasion at a house in the Hollywood Hills. The face of the Brooklyn drill movement, who spent the past year captivating the five boroughs and beyond with his impossibly deep roar, had been taken away just like that. Bashar Barakah Jackson was just 20 years old.

Pop Smoke’s rise had been swift. He’d been rapping for less than a year when “Welcome to the Party,” with its anthemic hook and wobbling bassline, became 2019’s song of the summer in New York City. It was impossible to go anywhere in the city without hearing his voice from car stereos and speaker systems at block parties. Over the next six months, he harnessed the energy of his breakout moment and followed it up by making another hit (“Dior”), releasing a standout mixtape (Meet the Woo), and collaborating with mainstream stars like Travis Scott. He had graduated from regional hero to global star, bringing the sound of Brooklyn with him. 

Less than two weeks before his death, I spent a day with Pop Smoke as he prepared to attend the release party for his second project, Meet the Woo 2. Throughout our time together, mostly spent speeding through the streets of Manhattan in the back of a Sprinter van, he was surrounded by his closest friends and family. The day felt like a victory lap of his hometown.

Wearing a “Flossy Tuxedo” of head-to-toe white Dior denim, Pop Smoke began the day by sitting for one of his first major radio interviews with Angie Martinez, joking about eating snails in Paris as they discussed his bright future. When their interview was over, he eagerly plugged his phone into an AUX cord and played a series of unreleased R&B-leaning songs on which he traded in his rough growl for a smooth baritone. One of the songs sampled Tamia’s “So Into You.”  

Later, at the Louis Vuitton store in Midtown Manhattan, he fielded an endless series of FaceTime calls about the party later that night. When a friend teased him about mixing and matching prints, and “getting Panamanian with it,” Pop Smoke kissed his teeth and adopted an exaggerated accent to defend his father’s home country. “What you talking about Panamanians for?”