Bobby Shmurda has the face of a baby, hairless, but his child-like exterior is far from a representation of his music. When a young rapper achieves acclaim with a dance attached to their name, you might expect something like a Soulja Boy, but it was different with Bobby. His music’s showcased a life that resembled Marlo Stanfield more than Cali Swag District.
Last summer he entered our homes, invaded our websites, conquered our Vines, and gave our summer an anthem. “Hot Nigga” blazed a trail from the blocks of Harlem to the clubs of Atlanta. Mitch caught bodies, guns were busted. Bobby isn’t old enough to legally enjoy a scotch, but has lyrics proclaimed that he’s been selling crack since the fifth grade. This didn’t stop us from Shmoney Dancing. Bobby’s energy is explosively contagious, the beat is boisterous—you can’t resist moving to the groove when a song is simply infectious.
Big songs attract big record labels, they want a piece of your pie, and Bobby had them all knocking at his door. He chose to sign with Epic Records and together “Hot Nigga” reached No. 6 on Billboard and went platinum, followed by the release of his Shmurda She WroteEP. There were hopes that this was the beginning of a winning partnership, Epic claimed they had found the next 50 Cent.
When he signed to Epic, Bobby was given GS9 Records as a subsidiary, named after his neighborhood crew, a crew that the NYPD has been investigating since January 2013. On December 17, Bobby along with 14 other people connected with GS9, were arrested and indicted as a result of this long-term gang activity investigation. The charges, along with the number of drugs and guns that the police obtained, depict a mafia family instead of a rap conglomerate. Collectively, the indictment reached over 100 counts, while Bobby faces a maximum sentence of 8 to 25 years and bail is set at $2 million. It’s been two months since his arrest, he's pleaded not guilty along with the rest of his crew, and yet hasn’t been freed. Rumors spread that his label would come to his rescue; Epic isn’t some garage label, it’s an offshoot of Sony, they surely would have 10% for their rising star. Help never came.
Rap is a medium that embraced and gave a home to the rawness of reality. The doors are opened to any soul willing to spill their lives, articulate their struggle with style, and submerge listeners into their world, no matter how bleak and gray. It gave the streets a voice, the stories of ambitious hustlers, slick-tongued drug dealers, edgy poets, imaginative backpackers, it’s a potluck of unfiltered expression that created a movement. Hip-hop demands realness, we want the naked truth and nothing more. Bobby’s music felt naturally gritty, his viewpoint didn’t feel like a fabricated fable, and that attracted an audience big enough to get label attention. Epic sought to monetize his story, flip all that crime into legit money, cash in on all the madness of Grand Thief Auto V in audio form. They advanced him a nice seven-figure sum and made their money back at least two or three times over. It turns out that partnership only benefited Bobby if his art imitated life, and not vice-versa. The hardcore, street lifestyle can be sold but never associated with a corporate business.
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In a recent New York Times article, Bobby confesses he thought Epic would support him. That he didn’t just sign a deal but felt that their union was more like a family affair instead of a business relationship. That's what they told him, what they sold him on.
“When I got locked up, I thought they were going to come for me,” he said in an interview from the Manhattan Detention Complex, “but they never came.”
One of the most gruesome videos I’ve ever watched on the internet is Bobby Shmurda performing his music for LA Reid and the Epic Records staff. It’s painful viewing the cell phone footage, Bobby dancing and jigging for their meaningless approval. He’s a jester in the court of kings, juggling for their amusement. It’s sickening. They didn’t see a young man trying to escape his hellish predicament, but a momentary cash cow that they would drain until he was useless. Then they will find another, someone whose back is against the wall, easy to leech and pry on. When you’re used to crumbs, how can you resist a steak? They promised him wealth, fame, and loyalty, but only if they benefited. The same thing happened with Chief Keef and Interscope, Trinidad Jame$ and Def Jam, labels are looking for hits, and you’ll be yesterday news when you can’t produce one.
“Now, from jail, Mr. Pollard, who once stood by the veracity of his rhymes, said that the lyrics were “fabricated,” because “that’s what’s selling nowadays.” And, he added, Epic “grabbed me up at a vulnerable time.” He continued: “I was desperate to get out of the ’hood. I knew I was going to lose my life or go to jail.”
While behind bars, Bobby is now pleading his rhymes were fabricated because the street imagery is what sells. In the past, he’s boasted about the realness of his lyrics, but this was before facing 25 years in Rikers. I believe the “vulnerable time” statement, desperation and money will influence decisions, even if they aren’t the best. Of course, Bobby is ultimately responsible for the decisions he made and Epic isn’t obligated to do anything, but there’s something unsettling, almost cruel, about how little they’ve done to help their artist. They were happy to collect checks selling Bobby's gun raps, eager to promote the image of a young murderer, as soon as that violent marketing materialized into reality they ran. There’s money in the streets, stories record execs will never live, never fathom, is exactly what they want to market. They want edgy, street, all of the rewards of a life of crime (real or imagines) but none of the risk if it hurts their corporate image. The labels don’t want Biggie Smalls, they want Gangstalicious; microphone gangsters who only keep it real in the studio.
Rappers aren’t zoo animals, hip-hop isn’t a zoo, but cases like this make me feel otherwise. They turn starving artists into interchangeable attractions, sell them a dream, enjoy the fruits of their struggles, and then bail as soon as the money stops flowing. Whether Bobby's innocent or guilty, he's being held accountable for his alleged actions, while Epic walks away clean, their pockets bulging with profits made off yet another young black man's life. If he was good enough to sign, he should be good enough to support.
The sad reality is, they never cared about him, or anyone. This is the music business, and money only ever cares about more money.