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Pop Smoke’s social media posts may have given his killers key clues

Rapper Pop Smoke performs at Rolling Loud festival in Los Angeles
Rapper Pop Smoke performs at the Rolling Loud festival at L.A.’s Banc of California Stadium in December.
(Scott Dudelson / Getty Images)

Pop Smoke landed in Los Angeles on Monday evening for a five-day work trip that would include studio time and meetings with other artists. The 20-year-old New York rapper then began sharing posts on social media that were followed by thousands of people.

They saw him posing by an infinity pool in the sunny backyard of the Hollywood Hills home where he was staying. Later that evening, they saw a photo of the Los Angeles skyline from what appeared to be the home’s backyard.

At one point, the rapper or a member of his entourage uploaded a photo of a black gift bag tagged with his Hollywood Hills address. Another photo showed him posing by a white Range Rover with the address of the home partly visible in the background.

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Early Wednesday, a group of people, including one wearing a mask and armed with a handgun, burst into the mansion and repeatedly shot the up-and-coming musician. Security video shows the suspects fleeing the home in the 2000 block of Hercules Drive. A law enforcement source said the rapper and his friends partied at the home well past midnight in the hours before the shooting.

The motive is still unclear, but detectives are examining whether the assailants may have learned of Pop Smoke’s location from the social media posts.

“It is something we are fleshing out,” said LAPD Robbery-Homicide Division Capt. Jonathan Tippet, noting it would have made it far easier for someone to locate the rapper.

Police said evidence suggests the fatal shooting was probably not the result of a robbery and are examining other motives. Tippet said it appears something may have been taken from the home but acknowledged that security footage doesn’t show the suspects ransacking the house in the way typically seen in fast-moving home-invasion robberies.

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“We are not ruling out a robbery. But that doesn’t appear based on the evidence to be the motive,” Tippet said.

Detectives suspect the assailants were probably gang members. Federal officials have tied the rapper, who was born Bashar Barakah Jackson, to a street gang. His gang ties and alleged theft of a Rolls-Royce, for which he had been recently charged by federal prosecutors, are all being examined by investigators.

Peter Frankel, an attorney who had represented Pop Smoke, denied the musician’s gang affiliation. He said he hadn’t been alarmed by the fact that the address of the Hollywood Hills home was shared on social media.

“He was focused on his work and his appearances and his promotions and not thinking that he was going to be a victim of the murder,” Frankel said. “You’re talking about somebody that was in the studio basically every single night, that was traveling constantly, that basically had no time for anything other than his career.”

In his barely year-old career, the rapper helped found a distinctly Brooklyn variant of drill music, a hard-edged, gothic sound that originated in Chicago but that also won popularity on the East Coast and in the U.K.

His death came days after his second mixtape, “Meet the Woo 2,” debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard Top 200 list. His breakthrough mixtape, “Meet the Woo,” released last year, has 280 million streams globally.

But the rapper, who grew up in Brooklyn, had found himself repeatedly clashing with the law. Sgt. Jessica McRorie, a New York Police Department spokeswoman, said the agency had arrested him seven times since 2017 on suspicion of weapons possession, leaving the scene of an accident, reckless endangerment, a drug offense and larceny. The Manhattan district attorney charged him with stealing a pair of shorts worth $260 last year from Bergdorf Goodman but ultimately moved to dismiss the case.

Last month, a federal grand jury indicted the rapper on a count of transporting a stolen vehicle across state lines. Prosecutors in New York alleged that Pop Smoke stole a $375,000 Rolls-Royce Wraith in Los Angeles for a music video. It was later found at his mother’s home in New York. He pleaded not guilty to the charge. During a hearing in the case in Brooklyn last month, a federal prosecutor said the government believed that Pop Smoke was a member of a Crips-affiliated street gang, according to a court transcript.

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News of Pop Smoke’s death rattled the rap world and those who knew him.

It stunned Yuriy Mullokandov, the owner of a jewelry store in Cutchogue, N.Y., who since November had supplied the rapper with watches, diamond earrings and chains.

“He was a great guy and had a lot of positive energy,” Mullokandov said. “When we talked business, he was very serious…. We’re all real sad that he’s gone and he had to go that way.”

Like many fans, one 14-year-old Seattle resident said it was Pop Smoke’s breakthrough hit “Welcome to the Party” that first piqued his interest.

“I knew he was from New York and trying to bring the drill scene back,” said the boy, who is not being named because he is a minor.

The teenage fan was alarmed when he saw Pop Smoke’s address posted on an Instagram story hours after the rapper’s death.

“You don’t see that happen,” he said. “A lot of rappers flex their belongings and stuff, and I feel like that’s what he was trying to do, but that was dangerous.”

Times staff writers August Brown, James Queally and Hannah Fry contributed to this report.


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