DJ JP Lost Pop Smoke, Entered A Pandemic & Is Surviving Both Through Reinvention
Prescience is a luxury; acceptance is a necessity; progress is the goal. Stunned disbelief was the immediate aftershock of the Feb. 19 news of Brooklyn shooting star Pop Smoke’s untimely passing. Next, the sting of him turning into a memory may have weighed down people’s tear ducts into bursting. Then, the realizations: His woo growl will never escape the digital realm; the last time you saw him live was the last time you’d see him live
For those closest to him, the mourning is compounded by the knowledge of the future the supernova rapper envisioned.
“He kept saying, ‘Bro, we’re stars. I’m about to be a superstar.' He kept saying it. The last three shows we did, he kept saying It. He said it to me personally and then he said it out loud a couple of times. He kept saying, ‘This is it for us. I’m telling you, this is it,’” DJ JP, Pop Smoke’s official DJ, told GRAMMY.com.
If you ever saw Pop Smoke in the flesh, Jeffrey “DJ JP” Archer had his back. When Pop Smoke emerged from the ethers of online virality with his 2019 banger “Welcome to the Party” record for his first-ever show in his home of New York City back in June 2019, JP brought him to the stage and deejayed for the rookie MC. When the newly 20-year-old Pop Smoke, born and raised in the impoverished Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn as Bashar Barakah Jackson, went overseas for the first time in his life as part of Skepta’s Ignorance Is Bliss Tour, a month after his first-ever performance, JP was a brotherly figure helping him navigate the road and giving him a reminder of home. And when Pop Smoke passed, a week before his first headlining tour – Meet The Woo Tour – JP knew just how close the young star came to reaching the launchpad for the next level.
“We had rehearsals [scheduled] from 12 in the morning until 4 A.M. That was about to be rehearsal week and at the end of the week rehearsal the tour would’ve started.”
JP and the rest of the world hardly had a month to mourn the fallen star before they had to mourn the world they once knew when the COVID-19 pandemic crushed the old normal with a lethal grip. In a matter of weeks, JP was a DJ without the artist he made his living with in a world that now deems his living non-essential and a threat to the public safety. DJ JP spoke with GRAMMY.com about his last conversation with Pop Smoke, how he’s adapted during a pandemic and what the future holds for a man forced to reinvent.
“Last year, I thought we’d be on tour, or at a crazy show, or a crazy concert by now. Now, there’s COVID and all these things going on.”
This time last year, Pop Smoke’s 2020 ubiquity was a safer bet than a Tesla stock. Pop went from not doing a single show for the vast majority of 2019 to JP recalling three-show performance nights being a regular by the end of the year. That sort of increase in demand changes everyone’s life around the star. In a May interview on Instagram Live show Candid COVID Convos, JP admitted his financial situation changed considerably due to deejaying for Pop, explaining how the money he got from three Pop Smoke shows alone could pay his car note, rent, and still leave him with extra money to go shopping.
Pop’s passing took JP off the tour, but for a while, COVID-19 took JP off everything. Stay-At-Home orders swept across the nation blanketing the nightlife scene in a proverbial Do Not Enter tarp. JP estimates to GRAMMY.com that he had 150 events postponed due to COVID-19 from late March until July resulting in over $80,000 of deferred potential revenue. “When this pandemic started, I was thinking, ‘Alright, now you really have to do this. Now, you have to get this done because that just cut off one stream of income.’”
To financially survive the pandemic, JP pivoted from being behind the artist to being behind the music. He put together and opened his own recording studio in Canarsie, Brooklyn in July where artists, mixers, and engineers can rent it out if they don’t have access to a recording studio, which the pandemic has limited. The facility also doubles as a DJ lab, leveraging the pandemic-inspired rise in live-streamed DJ sets by giving DJs a place to host their streams and/or practice their craft. As millions have been thrust into unemployment during the pandemic, JP is using cataclysm as a catalyst.
“This pandemic gave me a boost and put me back in check. I got to a certain place where I got comfortable. When this pandemic started I was like, ‘Alright, I got to get the studio going. I have to get this going. I really have to make this happen. The pandemic gave me a push to do certain things.”
Helping provide his community with studio access falls directly in line with JP’s history of altruism. He held his men’s sneaker giveaway “Just Kicking It” at the Armory Men’s Shelter in, Brooklyn, NY. Before he made a single dollar from deejaying during the pandemic, JP was helping give away more than 300 pairs of sneakers to kids who have had their summer stolen by COVID-19. “I want to put on for my community. I want to keep it going. I want people to know where Canarsie is and what Canarsie is. I want to show them that we’re young Black kids from Brooklyn, NY, putting on for the community the right way musically and giving back.”
COVID-19 stole the summer but didn’t stop the parties for long. JP has been deejaying at private and corporate events sporadically throughout New York since July, which is no surprise to him. “A lot of promoters were hitting me up months before saying, ‘Be ready for this date.’” Quarantining from the pandemic hasn’t fully been lifted, with police shutting down the same type of parties JP has been deejaying. Luckily, no event JP has deejayed at has been shut down and it could be due to a shift in how these shows operate.
“Most of the promoters are doing outdoor events. As people walk in, they’re sanitizing them and taking temperatures. So, they’re making sure the event is safe and people are safe. There is more caution now than before.”
Before the pandemic, JP was already dealing with another external force precluding live shows: the New York Police Department. Rolling Loud organizers removed Pop Smoke and four other rappers from its New York City festival’s lineup on the same day (Oct. 12) Pop was set to perform due to the NYPD informing organizers that those performances would be risks of violence. Four months later, Pop alleged on Instagram that his Feb. 16 headlining performance at Kings Theatre, mere miles from where he grew up, was also blocked by the NYPD. Pop died without ever truly having his coronation on stage as the new king of New York.
For many, the Kings Theatre show will forever be remembered as the last time they had a chance to see the young legend. For JP, he remembers it as the last time he had a conversation with the man who changed his life. The show was a day before Pop would take the fateful trip to L.A. where he was murdered. JP showed up to the show to represent the team. It was there he’d have a conversation he may never forget as long as he lives.
“Polo G comes up to me and says, ‘I want to do a song with Pop.’ I texted Pop, ‘I’m at the concert, Polo here. He said he wants to do a song with you,” JP recollects. “He said, ‘Tell Polo to come to the studio right now.’ He went to the city and they recorded a song. That was really our last convo.”
On July 7, Pop’s memory lived on through the 18 new tracks that formed his posthumously crafted debut album Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon. Two weeks later, the world got 15 more songs. The songs are both timestamps of superstar’s rise and a map for its trajectory. “The album dropped and the deluxe dropped, yet we still have literally hundreds of songs that are coming. Off of this album and the deluxe, they see what he was getting into,” JP says excitedly. “They see how versatile he was. So, those songs I want to drop, they’re REALLLLY going to see, ‘Wow, he really had stuff up his sleeve.’”
JP doesn’t speak of Pop Smoke as a former employer whose death is painful more for the way it complicated life than for the person lost. He doesn’t even speak of Pop Smoke as if his life was his concern only when music was involved. He speaks of the slain 20-year-old word-wielder as a brother. When asked how he feels whenever he hears Pop Smoke’s music now, JP pauses, and his booming voices deflates a bit when he repeats the question.
“It makes me want to turn up more now. The way I get when Pop Smoke come on is like I’m Pop now. I have to represent. I turn into him and I get his energy.”
Pop Smoke Forever.