Bobby Shmurda Is Coming Home. What Happens Next?
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.