Pop Smoke (RIP) will always be remembered as the voice and face of Brooklyn drill. He emerged in late 2018, a teenager from “The Flossy,” as locals called the tucked away Brooklyn neighborhood of Canarsie, to offer music fans around the country a new kind of sound to listen to. It was hard-edged, moody, fast, and gravely — the sound of Brooklyn drill, a subgenre of a style of drill rap that originated in Chicago, and which went on to find a controversial home in the U.K., where it managed to exist alongside British grime.
While Pop Smoke was hardly the originator of the emergent movement, he was certainly the one who helped popularize the style, bringing it to the attention of A-list artists like Travis Scott, Quavo, and Nav. His signature tracks “Welcome to the Party” and “Dior” elevated him to overnight phenom status, landed him the 2020 BET Best New Artist award, as well as remixes with Nicki Minaj, French Montana, and the British grime star Skepta. The 20-year-old’s homegrown Brooklyn sound was so powerful and unique that it has been said he possibly invigorated the entire rap scene in New York, which was flailing in the hands of teenage melody makers. While Pop Smoke’s meteoric career was cut short when he was murdered earlier this year in Los Angeles during a home invasion, his impact on the New York music scene will never be forgotten. In fact, his legacy lives on with a yet-to-be-titled posthumous album, due to be released later this month.
Still, so many unanswered questions loom about this larger-than-life character, forever immortalized. So, I decided to speak with someone who did have the opportunity to work with Pop Smoke behind the scenes: 19-year-old Victor Victor signee Swirv, a producer who lives in North London in the U.K. For anyone unaware, British producers like 808 Melo, AXL Beats, Yamaica Productions, and Swirv took the burgeoning sound from the U.K. drill movement, prominent since 2014, and merged it with Brooklyn drill to create monster hits like “Welcome to the Party” and “Big Drip” by viral sensation Fivio Foreign. Steven Victor, the former A&R head of Def Jam Recordings and now producer, took note of this young talent pool and decided to sign them to Victor Victor records, which he founded as an imprint of Universal in 2019. In doing so, he flawlessly built one of the strongest groups of producers in the industry.
When Swirv and I got on the phone recently, we had lots to talk — his come up as a producer, being discovered in America, Pop Smoke, of course, and working on the great one’s posthumous album.
Ben: How’d you get into production?
Swirv: In our school at the time, a friend and I figured out that there was a music room. It had Mac computers in it and they all had Logic Pro X downloaded on them. So it was like, you could just go in there at lunch and make beats, but we never took it like seriously. And then one time I got the idea to download FL Studio and I started messing around. We always liked beats, but we never knew how to make them properly. From there, we’d go home and then we’d get on a call with each other and just start making that stuff, whatever. After that, we both decided to make YouTube channels and it just started from that. We’d also try to send beats to local London artists that weren’t too big to get them to rap on our stuff.
B: How’d you start getting some traction overseas in the U.S.?
S: It was Pop Smoke straightaway. So at the time, I was really close with 808Melo and I started working with him first on some beats. As time went on I saw him working with Pop Smoke and they were making amazing songs that I really liked. Me and Melo had the same sort of drill sound and he was like, “You should message his manager and try to get some beats through.” So I messaged his manager Rico, who is now my manager also. Rico is a producer as well, so he really liked the UK drum sound that we used, and he wanted us to teach him and brought me and Melo on to the team. The first time I got flown out to LA to work with Pop Smoke, the Migos were there as well. So, my first experience was a massive straightaway. As soon as I got flown out.
B: What was it like to work with Pop Smoke?
S: It was cool. It never felt like it was a strict producer to artist relationship because he was basically my age. He just felt like a friend rather than a business partner. If we were in sessions together, he’d be showing us stuff on Instagram and just messing around. It was never really serious. I remember the first time we walked into the studio in LA, Migos was there and he just got up and dabbed me up and we were just chilling. Every time I was with him it was a relaxed atmosphere. I think the best time was when we flew to the Bahamas, which was the last time I was in the studio with him, on January 1st this year. We flew to work on “Meet The Woo 2” and then we were there for a whole week and every day we were in the studio. So the atmosphere was always just calm, it was never stressful or anything.
B: Getting signed to Victor Victor?
S: It’s pretty crazy because at the time I joined Victor Victor, I never knew how big it actually was and how popular everyone was at the time and neither did Melo really. So me and him were just talking about it and we searched to see what the people at Victor Victor had previously done. Then we saw that they were in high positions at Universal Music and all that stuff. So it certainly shocked us to come from like nothing working with small UK artists, to all of a sudden being part of a team with artists and big producers like Cash Money AP and Yung Kio. It just came out of nowhere. We were kind of in awe at the time.
B: Dealing with the passing of Pop Smoke?
S: It was just so sad and unbelievable. When you look back on his career, he only had a short amount of time. I liked being with him and knowing how much he actually wanted to achieve. I remember in the Bahamas, we were looking at his Spotify monthly listeners and at the time it was at 1 million. I was like, yo, that’s like pretty good and he was like, yeah, but it’s not good enough. He wanted more and to be really, really successful and it’s just sad to see that his career came to such a short end. The atmosphere just wasn’t the same, but it came to a point where everyone was like let’s continue this for him. We need to make sure we finish what he started, for everyone will remember him, so everyone got together and that’s how the album started coming around. He already had plans on the next album, so we wanted to execute it perfectly.
Pop Smoke’s posthumous album will be released July 3rd and will most definitely feature producing from Swirv. In the meantime, make sure to check out “Wolves” ft. NAV produced by Swirv and “WAR” ft. Lil Tjay and produced by both 808 Melo and Swirv.