Image Credit: Dominik Lippe
Like any typical day, I started my morning with a shower, and like any typical shower I spent far too long trawling through my music trying to find a suitable playlist. On this particular day, I decided to include music from the then up and coming Brooklyn rapper Pop Smoke, with ‘Get Back’ and ‘Scenario’ being my songs of choice. Roughly two hours later, news surfaced that the rapper had been shot dead in a home invasion in his West Hollywood house that he was renting at approximately 4:30am. Pop Smoke was 20.
Tributes for the rapper’s unexpected and deeply tragic death immediately came pouring in. Figureheads of the rap game such as 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, Nicki Minaj and Travis Scott paid their condolences. The world of hip hop was in a state of immense sadness and palpable shock.
Early investigations into his death gave rise to what still remains an unanswered question. Was this merely a random attack or was it a targeted hit? The evidence available to the Los Angeles police thus far indicates that this callous act was a targeted hit. In the days leading up to this death, Pop Smoke, whose real name was Bashar Jackson, had posted pictures of himself holding large wads of cash. The day before he died, the rapper had posted an image of a gift bag he had received in his Instagram story which visbly displayed his address. Many have been led to believe that this may have exposed his whereabouts, inadvertently making him a target to criminals. The possibility that Pop Smoke’s death may have been a consequence of him showcasing the wealth he acquired from his music leads me to question the culture of a genre that I love deeply. Is the act of flaunting the diamond encrusted fruits of your labour a harmless part of the culture, or is there a more sinister side to it which is leaving the lives of our hip hop stars at risk?
Deeply embedded within hip hop culture is the glorification of one’s wealth and the overt and boastful display of their money which is often symbolic of their rags to riches journey. A journey in which many rappers have had to overcome extreme poverty, societal discrimination and the lures of gang life in order to obtain commercial success through their artistry. Throughout the history of hip hop many rappers have always worn their bank accounts on their necks and wrists. In older generations, the likes of Afrika Bambatta, Run Dmc, LL Cool J, Nas and Biggie Smalls, to name a few, made sure to let the world know just how rich they were. Slick Rick was a particular proponent of rappers displaying their opulence , possessing arguably the flashiest array of jewellery in the history of hip hop and being one of the biggest flexers the game has ever seen. In more modern times, rappers such as the Migos, Gucci Mane, Future and Gunna have taken the mantle and perpetuated this culture. Even though the act of flaunting your wealth is so heavily integrated within hip hop, to me it appears that it is increasingly putting rappers’ lives at risk. If posting images on social media of your latest Goyard bag or buss down Patek Philippe means that more and more rappers are becoming targets, then I do not support it.
Pop Smoke is not the only young rapper to have been brutally murdered within the past few years. In 2018, the controversial rapper XXXTentacion was killed as he was robbed outside a Florida motorcycle dealership. He too was only 20. Pittsburgh born rapper Jimmy Wopo, who was seen by many as the successor to Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller, was killed in a drive-by shooting the same day. He was only 21. Two weeks after these tragic deaths Canadian rapper and Drake’s tour mate Smoke Dawg, who was also just 21, was murdered outside a Toronto Nightclub.
Far too many young and up and coming rappers have been murdered in cold blood within the past few years. To pin each of these deaths entirely on the fact that the rap game celebrates rappers showing their audience how wealthy they are would be unfounded; however, we mustn’t ignore the role that this could have played. In a world where social media is so omnipresent and everyone can see where you are, who you are and what you have, it is becoming easier for criminals to target the rich and wealthy. It is no mere coincidence that there has been a spike in the amount of young and successful rappers that have been robbed and murdered in recent years as it has become more widely accepted for them to showcase their money and success on social media, unwittingly exposing themselves to criminals.
In the short time that Pop Smoke rose to prominence, he bridged the gap between the UK and US drill scenes like no other. He was a rapper that was truly loved and revered on both sides of the pond. His death should serve as a warning to everyone affiliated with hip hop culture, whether you’re an artist or a fan. We must collectively do more to protect these young rappers and the first step towards doing so is to reduce how much we glorify these artists flaunting their wealth