When Bobby Shmurda first arrived on the scene almost two years ago now I frankly didn't give him much thought. I'd seen too many new rappers with hot singles come and go to expect him to be around for long. And if he managed to beat the odds and prove me wrong, good for him.
And then on December 17, 2014, Shmurda's story took a dark turn as police arrested him and several others on several counts of conspiracy to commit murder, weapons possession and reckless endangerment. I won't even guess at Shmurda's guilt or innocence, but regardless of whatever personal responsibility he bears for his situation, it's become increasing clear over the last year that he's also being used as a pawn by much more powerful people.
His label, Epic Records, was only too happy to cash in on his murder raps, provided that he danced for them on command, but when the actual murder charges hit the label was nowhere to be found. Human parasite Martin Shrekli weaseled his way into some headlines by saying he was going to bail Shmurda out of jail, but that turned out to be a lie. And as the months tick by it's become clear that the justice system isn't particularly interested in seeking justice for Shmurda's alleged crimes, repeatedly raising and denying his bail and postponing court dates.
The New York court system is fundamentally broken on every level - read the story of Kaleef Browner, who spent three years in Riker's Island awaiting trial for allegedly stealing a backpack - but in addition to their dysfunction, in a new interview with RevoltTV, Shmurda says that he's also being specifically targeted because of his music.
I’m being targeted by police, the prosecutor, I’m being targeted by Manhattan judges, everything...All of these alleged crimes, they saying that we murdered people and reckless endangerment, they have no evidence. They have nothing. They put us together because these people were in my video. They don’t have nothing on us.
Again, it's far beyond my means to offer any assesment of Shmurda's guilt or innocence, but regardless, he's inarguably right in that he's part of a growing trend by law enforcement to use music, specifically hip-hop music, as evidence in court, which has some chilling first amendment implications. At the same time Shmurda remains in jail, the Supreme Court is preparing to hear arguments in a case that stems entirely from rap lyrics. As Killer Mike wrote in an editorial around that case:
"We don't assume that Quentin Tarantino, Stephen King or Johnny Cash carry out the (sometimes extreme) violence depicted in their art -- because we acknowledge it as art. But as we have noted before, rap is often denied that respect, particularly in the criminal justice system, where amateur rappers, almost always young men of color who lack the name recognition (and bank accounts) of their professional counterparts, are routinely prosecuted for their music, either because people believe that rap should be read literally or because they just don't like it.”
I can't say if Shmurda deserves our sympathy or not, but his case does deserve hip-hop's attention as more of the culture's art ends up as courtroom evidence while at the same time murdered rappers have their cases solved at half the rate as all homicides. So make no mistake, hip-hop may be more accepted by mainstream culture than ever, but these are still very dangerous times to be a rapper.
Even if you escape the streets, there's a world full of greedy executives and publicity hungry prosecutors waiting to take their piece.
By Nathan S, the managing editor of DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.