Meet the Woo

Meet the Woo

From hip-hop’s very beginnings, New York City had set its agenda and driven new innovations and variations within the genre. But with the explosion of drill music—the kinetic, confrontational style originating in Chicago and filtered through London—the city was given a chance to flex its muscles as a great importer and interpreter of sounds. Nobody embodied this spirit better than Pop Smoke, the late star whose inimitable voice and unshakable point of view as a lyricist put an irrepressibly New York spin on this new wave of music. His debut mixtape, 2019’s diamond-sharp Meet the Woo, tipped the balance of power within rap back to its rightful home. Raised in Canarsie by a Jamaican mother and Panamanian father, and taught to play several types of African drums during worship services, Pop Smoke began taking music seriously when two years of house arrest left him little latitude to move around outside. He stumbled across (and would quickly buy a plane ticket for) 808 Melo, a London producer who had been hard at work mutating the drill sound Chicagoans like Chief Keef and Lil Durk had been tinkering with into something deeper and woozier. Pop’s voice—a blend of Keef’s, 50 Cent’s, and Max B’s, which could communicate the same wit or menace all of those three frequently do—became the perfect anchor for Melo’s skittering drums and apocalyptic bent. Meet the Woo plays like a best-of, a smart distillation of an emerging scene. That it is in fact the vision of a single artist—a debut at that—is evidence of remarkable poise and ingenuity. On the sinister breakout single “Welcome to the Party” as on “PTSD,” a chilling rendering of the titular disorder, Pop’s harrowing personal story is made to feel part of the fabric of a style that is otherwise defined by its totalizing force and relentless forward motion. And so when “Dior,” an apparently apolitical song, became one of the soundtracks to the social unrest in New York in the summer of 2020, the fit seemed surprisingly natural: a native determined to remake the world in the city’s image.

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