Twenty is no age to condemn a life.
Poverty is truly the worst form of violence. The streets, like poverty, operate in a peculiarly unconscionable fashion, drawing impoverished youth to its allure with wanton disregard for their long-term goals. Before long they’re knee-deep with little to no knowledge of a viable alternative worth considering. By 23 one’s tenure as a decorated pawn can very well earn him the title of OG (Original Gangster), a distinction that almost certainly ensures one’s place in a courtroom, prison, or early grave.
Yet, we must acknowledge that the consciousness to see beyond the scope of the immediate is underdeveloped in our youth. The ability to weigh the pros, cons, and sustaining elements of an action, enabling optimal decision-making and execution on a stage of the highest stakes, demands the space and time to learn, grow, and develop discipline.
If we’re fortunate to reach our 30s, we begin to see differently and we strive to not only do differently, but to do better. All too often, though, we are prohibited from reaching the age that allows for better understanding and doing. Arriving well after its utility, wisdom remits a fleeting lesson on the crux of living: that dying in the infancy of our adulthood only sustains those elevated by our demise.
The tragedy of Pop Smoke‘s murder is shouldered by those who found inspiration in this young man’s trajectory. It reinforces a message among our lot that there is no reward to be claimed in the fray.
Bashar Barakah Jackson, the 20-year-old Brooklyn, NY, native, better known by his chosen stage name of Pop Smoke, was neither of my era nor preferred genre of Hip Hop. At the same time, none can deny the increasingly influential grip he had on his generational demographic in such a short window of time.
Twenty is an age everyone deserves to reach in order to make their mistakes, learn, and grow. And where some might judge this fallen brother on the limited scope of his music, I would remind them that at 20 years of age, Malcolm X, whose greatest impact was felt much later in his developmental transformation, was a world apart from the man we honorably remember today.
Roses that grow in the ghetto do not bloom from the richness of fresh meadows; they break through ceilings of concrete. They ought not be judged by the tattered appearance borne of the struggle they’ve had to navigate, but rather commended for holding strong to the power of the purpose bestowed by life itself, albeit amidst turbulence.
At the time of Pop Smoke’s death, his second mixtape, Meet the Woo 2, was enjoying a No. 7 debut on the Billboard Top 200 list with 30 million streams. His breakthrough mixtape, Meet the Woo, released in 2019, had amassed 280 million streams globally, and the artiste was anxiously preparing to embark on his first world tour slated to begin next month.
Just having a voice gives you the potential to do something great in this world. This young man had a voice to ‘shake the room’ and an audience that spanned globally at just 20 years of age. There is simply no telling the heights he may have—and very well would have—ultimately reached.
Indeed, 20 is no age to condemn a life.
Rest in the Creator’s perfect peace, Bashar Barakah Jackson. We are grateful we had you.
God bless the dead – LIVE ON.