Bobby Shmurda was released from New York state prison this morning after serving a six-year sentence on illegal firearm and conspiracy charges. The 26-year-old rapper announced his release via Instagram yesterday. Though his friends and fans are celebrating his freedom, the nature of his imprisonment is another reminder of who pays the price when record labels commodify the pain of Black people entangled in a system of mass incarceration.
In an interview with Billboard published on Monday, Migos member Quavo claimed he would be picking up Shmurda from the detention facility. "I'm going to get my guy," he said. "I'm personally gonna go pick up Bobby Shmurda. I'm bout to go get him. I'm gonna let him show you how I'm gonna pick him up, yessir." According to his latest Instagram post, he came good on his word.
It's unlikely Shmurda will be returning directly to his native Brooklyn, or even New York, for that matter. "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 NPR in an interview recorded in 2018.
It's an understandable position to take considering the controversy surrounding his 2014 arrest when he and more than a dozen members of his entourage were detained in an NYPD raid during the recording of his debut album. At the time, the 19-year-old star was riding high off the viral success of his "Hot N****" music video that saw his GS9 crew mobbing on a Brooklyn street corner.
In an industry that puts a high price on authenticity, Shmurda's street cred made him a target for music executives and criminal investigators alike. NPR's Louder Than a Riot investigation spoke with prosecutors and rappers to discover how the rapper's downfall reflects ongoing structural problems that leave young Black rappers let down by the music industry and the legal system.
NPR's series looks at how police and prosecutors use conspiracy law to build steeper cases, and how an entertainment industry that values authenticity can turn street crews in poor neighborhoods into prime targets of a criminal investigation. It also looks at how the families who experience loss in the process can get lost in the shuffle.
When record labels prioritize authenticity and the criminal carceral system prioritizes convictions, it is most often Black artists like Shmurda that suffer the consequences. Epic Records stood to make a lot of money when they signed a gang-associated teen to their label, but his lyrics made him the mark for the kind of conspiracy charges that are most often weaponized in communities of color, eventually leading to his arrest.
Prosecutors painted Bobby as the mastermind behind a sophisticated criminal enterprise. "It was painted as, I had the money. I'm the gang leader. And the people I grew up with, they murderers and stuff," he told NPR investigators. "That's how they painted the picture, and people just go along with it."
Bobby will be on parole for a maximum of five years, and while the sonic landscape has shifted significantly in his absence, he's stayed up-to-date with trends in hip-hop since his sentence. Shmurda's mother, Leslie Pollard, told TMZ that her son will now be devoting most, if not all of his time to making music.