Bobby Shmurda Is Coming Home. What Happens Next?

Feb 22, 2021
Originally published on February 22, 2021 8:24 pm

It was less a specific dance sequence and more of a stylistic template: a pliant sway, a kind of two-step dressed up with silky swagger. The Shmoney Dance, 2014's viral craze, juxtaposed with the grimy lyrics of 19-year-old rapper Bobby Shmurda's breakthrough hit "Hot Boy," rocketed the kid from East Flatbush into pop culture's stratosphere. But then, just as quickly as he'd entered the spotlight, he disappeared.

Born Ackquille Pollard, Bobby Shmurda has spent the last six years serving time on illegal firearm and conspiracy charges, handed down as part of a major police takedown of his neighborhood crew, GS9. As NPR investigated in a three-part arc on Louder Than A Riot last fall, the story of his December 2014 arrest, just months after he signed to Epic records, goes deeper than one rapper's downfall. It's also the story of how police and prosecutors use conspiracy law to build steeper cases, how an entertainment industry that values authenticity can turn street crews in poor neighborhoods into prime targets of criminal investigation, and how the families who experience loss in the process can get lost in the shuffle.

In Bobby's absence, curiosity has mounted about the artist's potential return to music, burnished by a #FreeBobby campaign on social media and the mythmaking effect of his faithfulness to his crew through his trial and sentencing. Louder Than A Riot's reporting focused on the larger socio-political contexts for GS9's takedown, including RICO-like conspiracy charges being weaponized in communities of color and the criminalization of hip-hop personas. Now that he's getting out, he's going to be forced to grapple with many of those same pressures.

As reported in September 2020, Bobby was up for early parole in December but was denied. Now, according to the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, he has been granted a conditional release on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. While Bobby's family and friends prepare for his release, questions linger about his future, both in hip-hop and on the streets that made him. Here are a few factors to consider:

  • He's said he doesn't want to return to Brooklyn. More than any other genre, hip-hop is about repping where you're from, but the guy who helped revive the borough's rap scene has said he's been through too much there: "I'll be in New York to handle business or do a show, but I don't want nothing to do with New York," Bobby told Louder Than A Riot in an interview recorded in 2018. With his daily reality changing, his music will almost certainly follow suit.
  • He's still likely to be on the police's radar. Bobby will be on parole for a maximum of five years. In his interview with the podcast, he said his main concern with coming home was was security: Because of his history, he doesn't want to rely on police for protection, but the success he's experienced makes him too much of a potential target to go without any. "I learned that even as a felon I still can't have a gun, but I can have security. So I told my bros who don't got felonies and stuff, go get your license and stuff like that. I tell a lot of people, rappers these days and all that too, I'm saying, because nobody want police as security."

  • Hip-hop has changed in his absence. The emergence in recent years of Brooklyn drill and figures like Fivio Foreign, Sleepy Hallow, Sheff G and the late Pop Smoke has surfaced a sound that's thunderous, chaotic and a few tonal shades darker than the bounce of "Hot Boy," even if its creators definitely benefited from the seeds planted by the song's viral whirlwind. With Bobby and his collaborator and crewmate Rowdy Rebel both home from prison bids, will their sound change with the times or will they double down on their signature? (Epic has told Louder Than a Riot that at present, Bobby remains signed to the label.)

Louder Than A Riot hosts Sidney Madden and Rodney Carmichael joined NPR's Audie Cornish to discuss what might be next for Bobby Shmurda. Hear their full conversation at the audio link.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It was less a specific dance move or sequence and more of a stylistic template - a kind of two-step, but with a silky swagger.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOT BOY")

BOBBY SHMURDA: (Rapping) Caught a - about a week ago, week ago.

CORNISH: Yet the Shmoney Dance was the viral dance craze of 2014, and it helped launch the music career of the Brooklyn rapper Bobby Shmurda. That's him on the mic. And at the same time, Bobby Shmurda was in legal trouble, which led to a felony conviction and a prison sentence. After about six years behind bars, Bobby Shmurda is expected to be released on Tuesday. NPR Music's Rodney Carmichael and Sidney Madden have followed his story extensively for their podcast Louder Than A Riot. They join us now.

Welcome back, guys.

SIDNEY MADDEN, BYLINE: Thanks, Audie.

RODNEY CARMICHAEL, BYLINE: Hey, thanks for having us, Audie.

CORNISH: All right. So catch us up on Bobby Shmurda. What makes this case one to follow, a case that hip-hop fans have held on to?

MADDEN: Well, Bobby Shmurda was only 20 years old when his hit song "Hot Boy" went viral in the summer of 2014. And thanks to his charisma and the music video, it had a signature dance that blew up with it. And you got to remember - 2014, we were still in the early days of Internet virality. So his story was kind of a rags-to-riches hip-hop story on hyper-speed because just as fast as his star was rising, Bobby was arrested and got caught up in a major indictment. And part of the reason that hip-hop fans, that people hold on to Bobby so much is that rapid rise and fall of fame.

CORNISH: Can you remind us how he ended up in prison, how he ended up indicted?

CARMICHAEL: In December 2014, Bobby and several members of his GS9 crew got arrested. It was a major indictment that involved everything from drugs to illegal weapons charges and murder charges. And New York's special narcotics prosecutor actually used conspiracy laws to round them all up, which basically means that prosecutors can hold anybody in the enterprise responsible for the worst crimes that someone in their circle has committed. Bobby pled guilty to one count of illegal weapons possession and one count of conspiracy, and he's been serving time since 2016.

MADDEN: And a lot of the reporting that we really tried to hone in on is the larger sociopolitical backdrop that all this was happening under. Like Rodney said, we focused on RICO charges, which is kind of fashion for organized crime outfits but that was used and weaponized to round up groups of Black men and used in communities of color, and how Bobby's hip-hop persona was actually used against him.

CORNISH: The reason why we're talking about this is because it's possible he'll be released on parole. And you know, he had this viral moment. Does he actually have a career to come back to?

CARMICHAEL: Well, yeah. On the first question, according to the New York Department of Corrections, he's up for conditional release on February 23, and he'll be on parole for a maximum of five years, so until about 2026.

MADDEN: And in terms of him having a career to come back to, Audie, that's a bit more precarious. In Bobby's absence, there's really been this emergence of Brooklyn drill that has ushered in a new era for hip-hop's birthplace of New York. And there's new figures like Fivio Foreign and Sheff G and even the late Pop Smoke who really have become marquee names in the movement. But a lot of the seeds of that movement trace back to the viral whirlwind that Bobby created in 2014 with "Hot Boy."

CORNISH: I know you guys have actually talked to him in the course of your reporting. Did you talk to him about how hard it would be to transition - right? - to come home?

MADDEN: Yeah, one of the most crucial interviews we did throughout our series was the in-person with Bobby up at Clinton Correctional Facility in 2018. And we talked to him really about what he's learned in hindsight and how he's going to move going forward.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BOBBY SHMURDA: I learned about the gun law more 'cause that been my problem. So I've learned that even as a felon, I still can't have a gun, but I can have security. So I told my bros who don't got felonies and stuff, go get your license and stuff like that. I'm saying - I tell a lot of people, rappers these days and all that, too - know what I'm saying? - 'cause nobody want police as security.

MADDEN: He's in a Catch-22. Because of his history, he doesn't want to rely on police for protection. But the success he's experienced makes him too much of a potential target without any. And he doesn't want to leave his friends out in Brooklyn, and Brooklyn gave him so much of his flavor. But now Brooklyn is literally ground zero for where he can get hemmed up again.

CORNISH: So how does he plan to navigate this?

MADDEN: He told us he doesn't plan to move back to New York at all when he gets out.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BOBBY SHMURDA: Only if I got to go to shows. I love New York, but I don't want to deal with it - only if I got shows or business. That's it. I'm good.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. And I mean, this is a really big deal because, essentially, Brooklyn made Bobby who he is. You know, I mean, hip-hop, more than any other genre - it's always been about repping where you're from. And this is the guy who helped revive Brooklyn's rap scene, and he's saying that he doesn't want to return home after everything that he's been through. I mean, his music is undoubtedly going to change. But more importantly, I think the way he maneuvers his reality is really what has to change.

CORNISH: That's Rodney Carmichael and Sidney Madden. Their NPR Music podcast on hip-hop and incarceration is called Louder Than A Riot.

Thank you to you both.

MADDEN: Thank you, Audie.

CARMICHAEL: Thanks, Audie.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOT BOY")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Jahlil Beats, holla at me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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