By: Tommy “T-Rod” Rodriguez
This is one of many entries in a series where I will be doing weekly blurbs on New York’s music scene. From old to new records, we’ll be going over some of the most classic records from The Big Apple and its surrounding region!
Few music genres are as viral and in demand right now as drill. There’s a lot to appreciate from the scene, especially its blunt and aggressive energy, the harrowing storytelling and instrumentals that kick your teeth in. Initially popularized in the Midwest by artists like King Louie, Chief Keef, Lil Durk, and more, the genre already has its own unique and storied history. UK Drill was a massive subgenre for years, for example, and numerous artists across the globe are taking a stab at rapping over traditional drill instrumentals…to mixed success of course. After all, the genre is wholly unique rap style that is not easily done well. When an artist makes a great drill track, however, it’s a special moment.
And very few drill artists were able to make special tracks like the late Pop Smoke.
While initially based in Chicago, drill music nowadays is clearly focused on New York, with names like Fivio Foreign and Lil Tjay leading the charge at the moment. Pop Smoke, despite having his life tragically cut short, is still the largest name in New York drill, a testament to his skill and overnight success. A track like “Dior” has already cemented itself as an all-time great single, but there’s much more to Pop Smoke’s catalogue than just his viral songs. Meet the Woo is a perfect example of this, of how Pop Smoke changed the course of drill music in New York and how talented he really was.
In terms of volume, there isn’t a lot of content on Meet the Woo. The 2019 album is only nine tracks long and barely under the 30 minute mark, meaning that every single track has to hit. In a way, this brevity helps the record more than hurts it, as the whole album runs like one long continuous set, each short track being one phase of a greater whole. The tone of the album supports this, as Pop never lets up on the vocal or instrumental energy throughout. “Meet the Woo” is a fantastic introduction to Pop Smoke as an artist, his lyrics detailing his lavish and dangerous lifestyle over a futuristic synth line and skittering drums. This track also contains a great formula that Pop utilizes to perfection on this record: his rapping style. The cadence of his vocals is incredible, often leaving in deep and heavy pauses for adlibs and instrumental pulses, his husky voice coming back in for rapid fire verses that logically connect unrelated ideas. “Welcome to the Party” is a fantastic banger, but the real magic comes from how often Pop uses space in the hook, pausing for a second after every line to let the words sink into your brain. As we transition to the verses, the flow completely changes as glides over a dark, dangerous instrumental. It’s perfect for the gym, yes, but it’s infectious enough for even a casual music fan to love.
Speaking of how this album plays well for a casual listen, something that is a key part of Pop Smoke’s legacy is how many people liked his music. He was many’s point of reentry to mainstream drill around the end of the 2010s, and a lot of that stems from how polished and well made even his grittiest tracks are. “Hawk Em” and “Better Have Your Gun” are genuinely intense tracks, the former featuring operatic keys and gun talk and the latter diving deeper into that same gun talk over an ethereal sample. These tracks are violent, yes, but they’re also catchy and accessible from a pop standpoint. Pop Smoke was great at making any track have single potential, so the whole album feels like it could be a greatest hits collection. “Dior” is already an iconic track, but it really has a lot more under the hood than a cool instrumental. The song’s hook is damn near legendary, the verses paint a picture of a grimy and wild party, the beat has a lot of cool bells and whistles that transform a simple loop into a wild ride. It’s really the perfect song to study when thinking about how Pop Smoke was able to make HITS effortlessly.
Something that I think is underrated in Pop Smoke’s music is his minimalist approach to songwriting. Much of the music is very direct and to the point, often forgoing long wordy verses and allegories to just be honest. This isn’t a bad thing; if anything, this honesty further drives home the album’s theme of dangerous lifestyles. This aspect of the music makes some of these tracks sobering, even disturbing in light of his passing. “Feeling” tackles Pop Smoke’s urge to cause harm, a harrowing sentiment that turns an otherwise simple drill track into something entirely different. “PTSD” is one of the best written tracks in Pop’s catalogue, a sobering reality check that displays his regrets and fears that have accumulated from his street days. It’s a fantastic song, one of my favorite from him but again it’s sad to hear this track in the context of today.
At the same time, however, Meet the Woo can stand as a testament to why Pop Smoke was so beloved as an artist. His charisma throughout the album is infectious, his beat selection superb, his songwriting and performance deeper than many of his peers. It’s loaded with iconic refrains that countless fans will always get hype to, from the hook on “Brother Man” to damn near every bar on “Dior.” Meet the Woo is a short album, but it hits like a truck in every possible way and will leave you out of breath when it’s all said and done. Couple the great execution of this album with the impact it had on hip-hop as a whole upon release, it’s easy to see why Pop is so beloved in the New York rap pantheon.
But that’s just my take on it. What do you think about Meet the Woo? Is it a classic to you, or do you prefer another Pop Smoke record? Any favorite songs from this album or another record? Let me know in the comments!
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