Pop Smoke’s big brother, Obasi Jackson, remembers the exact moment he learned his little brother, the Brooklyn rapper known for his baby face and bristled voice, was killed.
“My friend comes up to my dorm and knocks. She was like, ‘I got something to tell you. I hate to give you this news.’ I'm like, 'What are you talking about?'" he told Inside Edition Digital, his mind immediately wandering to a problem with either school, or something else "regular," he said.
"But then she tells me that my brother is dead. I'm like, ‘You got to go.’ and I'm like, ‘why would you even say that? You're playing, don't say that.’ And then I call my mom, I looked on Google because people are fast with the news, and then I waited,” Obasi said.
In February, 2020, Pop Smoke, whose real name was Bashar Jackson, was renting a home in the Hollywood Hills of California owned by Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Teddi Mellencamp. In the early hours of Feb. 19, four people allegedly broke into that home and shot the 20-year-old several times. Bashar was pronounced dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Obasi was in college on Long Island when his brother was killed, and as soon as the horrific news was confirmed, he went straight to California. He still finds it hard to believe that so much time has passed, but the pain and confusion of losing his brother is at times just as unbearable as it was a year ago.
“It's definitely better than when it first started, but there's days when it's like, really overwhelming for me. It feels almost like it was yesterday that I lost my brother," he said. "It doesn't even feel like a whole year. It's crazy to even imagine the fact that a whole year has passed and that he's not here. And then I'm going to have to continue doing that for the remainder of my life, but we're here and my family's strong and we're getting better. So God is good.”
Obasi’s healing process is just beginning and he's still learning how to live with the grief.
“I get this feel, this overbearing, I can't even bear it," he said. "It's this feeling that just weighs on my shoulders. And sometimes I get heavy with tears, sometimes I want to hold them in, sometimes I let them out. Sometimes I'll get angry, sometimes I'll just go out and try and have fun, but the struggle sometimes to even get up at times, it's a crazy experience to be going through at this moment, but like I said, God is good."
At the time of his death, Pop Smoke was riding the wave of the success of his singles, “Welcome to the Party” and “Dior,” which pushed the Brooklyn drill sound onto a national stage.
His fandom was in mourning, but especially so in his hometown of Canarsie, Brooklyn. There, just before lockdowns in response to the spread of the coronavirus took effect, thousands gathered to watch a caravan carry the artist’s body though his neighborhood for the final time.
Over the summer, weeks before what would’ve been Pop Smoke’s 21st birthday, his studio album, “Shoot For The Stars Aim For The Moon,” was posthumously released. 50 Cent helped produce the project.
“He definitely came and he talked to my mom once or twice. And definitely just got the artists together and did what he needed to do on the executive side to make sure that Pop had the best product that there could be in the time frame that they had. Despite all the cover art,” Obasi chuckled, referring to the album’s cover controversy.
The original artwork was designed by Virgil Abloh, men's artistic director for Louis Vuitton. The internet was quick to point out the design appeared to be a clumsy photoshop job of Pop Smoke’s head over platinum roses and barbed wire.
When they were done making memes of it, fans, clearly still upset over the original design, started a change.org petition to see it redone. 50 Cent heard them loud and clear. They got their wish, and the artwork was changed to a solid black background with a single platinum rose in the center.
When asked about his favorite memory of his brother, Obasi’s eyes sparkle.
“After church, they had a playground in our parking lot. So we had a playground, but then we also had like a little basketball court in the back. So him and I, we would rush out the church. And it was always a race to the playground. So everything was, who could get there faster? Who could do this better? That was always competition. So it was who could be highest on the swing? Who's going to be... But we always did something at church, whether it be basketball, swinging, just running around, running through the cars, running through the pews and the aisles of the church. It was just fun times where everything just felt free and just natural," he said.
Life wasn't easy for the Jackson family, Obasi said. But still, his brother persevered.
“A lot had happened to him over the years," he said. "My mom, my dad, myself, it wasn't easy, but they did the best they could possibly do and he came out. Despite anything, he made it on top. He showed the world, he showed everybody that was hating different, besides this, the killing, he deserved all the fame, his celebrity status, the money. He deserved that because he worked and he hustled for it and he didn't let anybody tell him no.”
As big as Pop Smoke was, he was on the verge of reaching new heights when he was killed.
Pop Smoke was starting to act. His debut will come in Eddie Huang’s film, “Boogie,” about a skilled basketball player named Alfred “Boogie” Chin who has goals of making it to the NBA, set to be released in March.
Ultimately, police arrested five people in connection to the killing.
Two men, 19-year-old Corey Walker and 18-year-old Keandre Rodgers, were charged with murder. Walker pleaded not guilty in October 2020. Rodgers was transferred to juvenile court last year because he was 17 at the time of Pop Smoke's death. Proceedings in juvenile court are confidential so the status of the case is not public.
The other two were minors, ages 15 and 17. Their names have not been released because of their age. They have each been charged with one count of murder and robbery in juvenile court. All four suspects are due back in court in late February. A fifth person was also initially arrested but was not charged in connection with this case.
According to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, Walker was charged with murder with a special circumstance allegation, because Bashar's killing occurred while other crimes — robbery and burglary—were already in progress. If found guilty of murder with a special circumstance allegation, Walker would be eligible for the death penalty.
News of the arrests left Obasi stunned.
“I couldn't come up with words, I couldn't fathom. I mean, this is crazy because, why is that acceptable? These kids should be wanting to aspire to be better. You don't have to do this to survive. You don't have to take from the next male, take someone's life for status or to fill some kind of void within yourself,” Obasi stated, visibly upset.
As he continues to honor his brother's legacy, Obasi also is forging his own career in music. But don’t look for him to mimic his little brother’s sound. He’s more of an R&B and Neo-soul artist. “That's why I'm trying to bring R&B back. Not saying that it's dead and that people are not doing it, but I want it to be cool,” he said.
“Right now I'm just focused on my music, focus on getting better. I'm chilling with friends more. I stopped playing video games years ago, I'm playing them again. I picked my guitar back up and just trying to focus on me and trying to get to a spot where I used to be, where I felt happy and see if I could recreate it with what I know now and evolve.”
In the year since, Obasi also graduated from Five Towns College. The Jacksons have established the Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon foundation. The foundation is aimed at helping children, though the details are still being worked out.
At the end of 2020, Obasi's parents broke their silence on their child's killing with the release of an anti-violence PSA.
“Listen, my mother, shout out to her and shout out to my father, there. I mean, they're two of the most strongest people I know. For them to have lost their son in such a public light, and then to be going to work still and going through their everyday lives as if it didn't happen, but I know it did and we know it did, but just to see their strength is commendable and it's inspiring to me,” Obasi shared.
Pop Smoke’s alleged killers are awaiting trial, a process through which the family’s strength will be tested yet again. Wearing a hate with the words ”Justice for Bashar” stitched onto the front, Obasi shared with Inside Edition Digital what his version of that looks like.
“Justice for Bashar just looks like doing what's best for him, and that means sometimes putting yourself to the side, your ego to the side. To realize that there's a bigger picture at hand. The trial is coming up. The case is going to get dealt with one way or another but I feel like true justice will come from the people that said they love him, and that's me included, so it's just up to us to do the right thing,” Obasi said. “I wouldn't want anybody to lose their life, but at the end of the day, I also feel like it should be an offer and people should get what they deserve. That's another thin line that I don't even want to try and tread over. I'm believing that God's going to make a way, God's going to do it.”