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DJ JP Lost Pop Smoke, Entered A Pandemic & Is Surviving Both Through Reinvention

DJ JP

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DJ JP Lost Pop Smoke, Entered A Pandemic & Is Surviving Both Through Reinvention

The official DJ of late rapper Pop Smoke talks representing his legacy and adapting creatively in the COVID-19 era: "The pandemic gave me a push to do certain things”

GRAMMYs/Aug 14, 2020 - 02:19 am

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.

Read More: Baby Rose On Making Music Amid Protests

Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

 
This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.

Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream

Brittany Howard

Photo: C Brandon/Redferns/Getty Images

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Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream

Proceeds from the event will be go toward loans to small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses, via Accion Opportunity Fund

GRAMMYs/Jun 16, 2020 - 04:13 am

This Saturday, June 20, artists including Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz and more will come together for Small Business Live, a livestream fundraiser event for small businesses facing challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Proceeds from the livestream will go to Accion Opportunity Fund to support small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses.

“Entrepreneurs of color are denied credit more often and charged higher rates for money they borrow to fund their businesses. We need to accelerate support to underserved businesses in order to reach our full potential,” Accion Opportunity Fund CEO Luz Urrutia said. “We have to decide what we want our Main Streets to look like when this is over, and we must act decisively to keep small businesses alive and ready to rebuild. This is a fun way to do something really important. Everyone’s support will make a huge difference to small business owners, their families and employees who have been devastated by this pandemic, the recession, and centuries of racism, xenophobia and oppression.”

Tune in for Small Business Live Saturday, June 20 from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. EDT on smallbiz.live. The site also provides a full schedule of programs and links to watch the livestream on all major digital platforms. To learn more about Accion Opportunity Fund, visit the organization's website.

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DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle And John Legend Win Best Rap/Sung Performance For "Higher" | 2020 GRAMMYs

DJ Khaled, Samantha Smith and John Legend

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle And John Legend Win Best Rap/Sung Performance For "Higher" | 2020 GRAMMYs

DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle and John Legend take home Best Rap/Sung Performance at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Jan 27, 2020 - 09:05 am

DJ Khaled, featuring Nipsey Hussle and John Legend, has won Best Rap/Sung Performance for "Higher" at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards. The single was featured on DJ Khaled's 2019 album Father of Asahd and featured Hussle's vocals and Legend on the piano. DJ Khaled predicted the track would win a GRAMMY.

"I even told him, 'We're going to win a GRAMMY.' Because that's how I feel about my album," DJ Khaled told Billboard. "I really feel like not only is this my biggest, this is very special."

After the release of the song and music video -- which was filmed before Hussle's death in March -- DJ Khaled announced all proceeds from "Higher" will go to Hussle's children.

DJ Khaled and co. beat out fellow category nominees Lil Baby & Gunna ("Drip Too Hard"), Lil Nas X ("Panini"), Mustard featuring Roddy Ricch ("Ballin") and Young Thug featuring J. Cole & Travis Scott ("The London"). Hussle earned a second posthumous award at the 62nd GRAMMYs for Best Rap Performance for "Racks In The Middle." 

Along with Legend and DJ Khaled, Meek Mill, Kirk Franklin, Roddy Ricch and YG paid tribute to Hussle during the telecast, which concluded with "Higher."

Check out the complete 62nd GRAMMY Awards nominees and winners list here.