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The Future of U.K. Rap: Pop Smoke, the Most Influential Artist of 2020

The late Pop Smoke will be known for his efforts throughout the ever-expansive genre of rap. He quickly rose to fame with tracks such as “Welcome To The Party” and “Dior” off of his freshman album, Meet the Woo, but stayed at the top until his death mid-2020. Pop championed the Billboard charts, reaching #1 spots for his albums Meet the Woo V.2 and Shoot For The Stars Aim For The Moon in the U.K., while also keeping all three albums in the U.S. Billboard 200 charts. For many fans, it was love at first listen, especially in New York. His music left an imprint in listeners' minds, always inviting them to come back for more. His style was distinct, reminiscent of drill, but with a Brooklyn twist.

Pop Smoke, 2020 / Photo By Claudia Lavenia, Getty Images

Releasing two albums in his lifetime, and one posthumously, Pop Smoke redefined the New York rap scene and the global drill scene by putting Brooklyn on the map. While Chicago remains the birthplace for the subgenre, Brooklyn is taking over thanks to Pop Smoke’s influence and new rappers continuing his legacy. It's time to recognize Pop for something more than his music. As a pioneer in the almost decade-long road of popularizing drill, he reinvented New York’s music scene.

His efforts and influence in such little time are what lead us to dub him the most influential rapper in 2020, leaving a permanent mark on the music industry.

When debating who had more influence in popularizing the subgenre, we choose Pop Smoke over Drake. Why? Pop Smoke’s career was sadly cut short and fans could only enjoy two full albums from the artist before 50 Cent took over to finish up the posthumous album, Shoot For The Stars. But Pop also did one thing Drake couldn’t: stick to one genre. The longer Pop Smoke spent on the charts, the more he put drill’s name in everyone’s mind. He stood at the frontlines of the Brooklyn scene, making the genre and its U.K. sibling approachable to listeners. But what made the subgenre unapproachable in the first place?

In part one, we discussed Big Shaq’s “Man’s Not Hot” stunt that became a laughing stock all over the world for different reasons. In the U.K., the satirical track mocked drill for its seemingly nonsensical lyrics and fashion choices. In the U.S., however, the track’s satire fell flat and most listeners couldn’t see past the accent spouting lyrics like “two plus two is four… quick maths.” The song quickly became the face for U.K. rap in America, tarnishing its reputation in the future and stunting any growth subgenres like drill might have. Drake would step into the scene in the same year to help undo such damage, but some saw his efforts as the rapper just trying to tap into another market.

Pop Smoke worked differently.

With a reputation far from Drake or Big Shaq’s, Pop Smoke was able to enter the drill scene seamlessly, and grew to represent the subgenre. His lack of a British accent made his music more palatable for American listeners. It still used drill beats and the lingo so commonly used in U.K. and Chicago drill, which was passed off as regular New York slang.

As Brooklyn drill grew in popularity and global influence, it would replace Chicago drill. Pop Smoke’s influence in its upbringing shed light on other Brooklyn drill artists such as Fivio Foreign and Sheff G. Since Pop Smoke’s passing, the two artists have continued to pave the way for Brooklyn’s new music scene, in two different ways.

Fivio Foreign gained mainstream popularity as he was featured on Pop Smoke’s posthumous album. Also finding a verse in Drake’s Dark Lane Demo Tapes, Fivio Foreign took his place as another small artist brought to the surface with help from Drake. He also was a part of XXL’s 2020 Freshman Class.

Staying out of mainstream light, Sheff G has continued to pave the way for Brooklyn drill in the most traditional manner. He's kept the core values of drill, without succumbing to mainstream trends. Through both Fivio Foreign and Sheff G, however, drill is diversifying and growing to include and support more artists, as well as identifying the capitals of the subgenre.

Most recently, upcoming Brooklyn drill artist CJ has caught the world’s attention. After his only song, “Whoopty,” gained millions of views on TikTok, CJ has risen to the top of Billboard’s Emerging Artists chart, currently at the #1 spot. New to the game, CJ could follow in Pop Smoke’s global footsteps, seeing as he's already becoming popular. His track “Whoopty” is a textbook Brooklyn drill track, from the beat to the slang. It’s taking the world by storm and hopefully both CJ and the subgenre follow.

In addition to growing and defining Brooklyn as a drill capital, Pop Smoke was able to use his influence to bridge the top two drill worlds together. In August 2019, Pop Smoke released a remix of his famous “Welcome to the Party” with British rapper, Skepta. A godfather of the U.K. grime scene, Skepta has had his share of features on albums, working with rappers like A$AP Mob, A$AP Rocky, and Playboi Carti. Although the remix never saw the recognition it deserved on the charts, it remains influential solely based on the original track’s success.

The work is bolstered by Kid Cudi’s latest album, featuring both Skepta and Pop Smoke on “Show Out.” Seeing the duo on another album solidifies their mark on the drill and overall U.K. rap community. We’re sad to know that this duo, barring any unreleased work comes to the light, will no longer be able to work together, but we do recommend Kid Cudi’s “Show Out” to watch the two work together one last time.

Pop Smoke changed the game in the drill world. Not only did he put Brooklyn on the map, but he replaced Chicago by doing so. While his efforts were more focused on the New York scene compared to Drake’s work across the pond, Pop Smoke made drill palatable for U.S. listeners after Big Shaq’s hilarity went viral. His influence can’t be ignored as the U.K. rap scene, more specifically their drill scene, is emerging and hitting its golden era. The future of rap is promising, thanks to Pop Smoke.


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