Some albums demand ascetic listening, the kind that happens best in solitude or while wearing noise-canceling headphones. Such music has its place, especially in the colder months. But summer is made for the populist records—albums ideally consumed secondhand, whether blaring from the bass-heavy stereos of cars parading down hot, crowded streets or wafting from the open windows of apartments down the block.
Last year, no voice cut through the New York City heat with more force than that of Pop Smoke. The Brooklyn rapper, born Bashar Barakah Jackson in the sweltering July of 1999, quickly rose to the forefront of the borough’s emerging drill scene, a corollary to the London and Chicago movements. With the boisterous anthem “Welcome to the Party,” the first single of his first mixtape, Pop Smoke dominated social events and city streets all summer. His music, booming and self-assured even as it explored heavy themes, captured the irrepressible energy of New York at its most dynamic. By the end of 2019, even with local law enforcement curtailing his public performances, the young rapper and his gravelly baritone seemed poised for national attention and a meteoric 2020.
But in February, the 20-year-old artist was shot and killed in Los Angeles following a home invasion. Now the rapper’s latest album serves as an unlikely soundtrack for mourning the unthinkable—a New York summer without the steady pulse of rowdy social gatherings, and a rap landscape without Pop Smoke, whose music so animated the city. Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon, released last Friday, should have been the official debut of an artist set to thrust his own work and his hometown’s rapidly evolving musical sensibilities further into the mainstream. So it’s especially eerie to listen to Pop Smoke now: Along with Meet the Woo 2, the mixtape he released two weeks prior to the shooting, the rapper’s new album and its haunting title now