Aaron Judge’s Home Run Record an ‘Inspirational’ Moment for Pop Smoke’s Legacy, Says Steven Victor

New York Yankees right fielder star Aaron Judge made history Tuesday when he usurped Roger Maris for the most home runs in American League history with 62. His late-night blast into left field in Houston against the Texas Rangers not only vaulted him into the record books but added an extra chapter to the legacy of Pop Smoke.

Judge’s at-bat appearances this season at Yankee Stadium have become a sight behold. Sauntering out from the batter’s box to the soundtrack of Pop’s 2020 anthem “Hello” evolved into a must-see moment for avid baseball fans and rap purists, especially when he inched closer to the venerable record. For Steven Victor — the accomplished record executive and artist manager who signed Pop to Universal Music Group through his own Victor Victor Worldwide imprint and helped guide his short-lived career — he sees this as an inspirational moment for the late rapper’s legacy after he died more than two years ago at the age of 20.

“I went on [Judge’s] Instagram page, and I started looking more into him, says Victor, who first learned about Judge’s home-run race last week. “And then I sent him a DM just thanking him and being very appreciative that he’s keeping [Pop’s] name alive.”

In February 2020, Pop Smoke was killed in Los Angeles during a home invasion. His posthumous debut album, Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and spawned a bevy of Hot 100 hits, including “Hello,” which peaked at No. 83 and was certified platinum by the RIAA.

“Hello” was initially deemed a throwaway song, but was later revived by Victor and producer Ricardo “Rico Beats” Lamarre, giving Victor his first-ever songwriting credit. In the track, Pop name-drops basketball legends Carmelo Anthony and Manu Ginobili — something Victor says prompted him to put the record on the album. From other athletes like Tom Brady to Floyd Mayweather who’ve said they’re fans of the rapper, Pop’s influence remains strong in the sports world — especially after Judge’s latest triumph. 

“This is very inspirational and aspirational,” says Victor. “These people work super, super hard, and [Pop] was also a very hard worker. I always tell people if you look at Ye or Cudi, they speak to people through their music, even if it’s not direct. I feel like [Pop] did that very well.”

Victor adds: “This is exactly what the goal was: working together [for him to be] this person that would inspire athletes and kids, using music as a vehicle to do that.”

Carl Lamarre