Brooklyn is an internationally known borough made famous by Spike Lee’s 1989 film Do The Right Thing, the 90s sitcom Living Single and of course, Brooklyn born rappers Notorious B.I.G, Jay-Z, Foxy Brown and Lil’ Kim.
It’s popularity typically garners a welcoming response from those who have always desired to visit the city and a slight sense of fear for others who have been warned about its dangerous side. When DJs around the world do their roll call to get a sense of where their crowd is from, Brooklyn is bound to get a shout out and the response from any natives in attendance is always filled with pride.
As someone that’s born and raised in Brooklyn, telling people where I’m from is my favorite part of any introduction, but the question I’ve always dreaded was the follow up: what part?
I grew up in Canarsie, a residential neighborhood in the southeastern part of Brooklyn. It was originally settled by Native Americans, was dominated by Europeans, later developed as mainly Jewish and Italian suburbs, and now houses a large black community with many families from Caribbean descent.
It is less popular than Brownsville and Bedford-Stuyvesant and often gets one of two responses. Brooklyn natives never fail to complain about its location in the “boondocks,” while foreigners ask for its proximity to more well-known cities and train stations. My go-to response: the last stop on the L train.
In April 2019, however, Canarsie native Bashar Barakah Jackson, known to the world as the late rapper Pop Smoke, literally put our region on the map with the release of his hit single Welcome to the Party, filming the video at the Bolla Market just blocks away from my house, and of course, making myself and other locals proud to claim the hood.
The rapper, much like most Canarsie natives, was born to Caribbean parents — a Jamaican mother and Panamanian father in 1999. When he rose to fame, I watched as the 20-year-old shared his talent with the world, never forgetting where he came from.
In songs like Gatti featuring Travis Scott, he shouted out “The Floss,” a nickname for Canarsie. In other songs, he gives a nod to Big 092MLBOA, his crew on 92nd street. I watched him hang out behind the DJ booth at a backyard party on Labor Day Weekend , just days after coming out as a surprise guest during a French Montana show sponsored by Power 105.1. Even in his absence, his impact was evident. I attended a baby shower, the night he canceled his performance at the Kings Theatre and the crowd was in an uproar, singing verbatim the lyrics to Welcome to the Party and Dior.
Unfortunately, the rapper’s life was cut short when he was shot and killed on February 19 while in his Los Angeles home.
His influence, though, lives on evidenced by fans, who all now aware of Canarsie’s existence, came together to celebrate his life following his untimely death.
On Thursday, March 5, Pop Smoke made his way through the Floss on one of the most grandiose occasions the neighborhood has ever witnessed.
Hundreds of people gathered the sidewalks on East 82nd Street and Flatlands where a giant mural of the rapper could be seen. Upon the arrival of his mother, the crowd cheered on. The funeral home loaded his casket into a white horse-driven carriage and the procession began, continuing on to Remsen Avenue and ending on East 92nd Street and Seaview Avenue, the area in which he is said to have lived.
Songs from the rapper’s EPs Meet the Woo and Meet the Woo 2 played as Woo journeyed through the parts of Canarsie appreciated by those who live here.
He passed the Dunkin Donuts on E 83th Street and the Bolla Market on E 84th Street where he shot his video. On E 86th Street, he passed the Real World Deli formerly known as the Milk Farm, where lines formed for breakfast sandwiches in my childhood days and then the crowd walked past my block on East 88th Street.
There’s not much that goes on in Canarsie. Aside from the block parties and cookouts that happen during the summer, family and close friendships capture the essence of the neighborhood.
Just as Pop Smoke spread his flair across the world, his death helped broadcast his impact, but also the heart of Canarsie. As fans, family, and Canarsie natives popped bottles of champagne, sang his music and shouted “Woo,” one thing was evident: Pop Smoke was family and we’ll forever put on for him the way he did for us.