Bobby Shmurda’s Case Exemplified How Hip-Hop Is Persecuted in the US

Today, on February 23, Ackquille Jean Pollard, AKA Bobby Shmurda, was freed from the Clinton Correctional Facility in New York. His release comes ten months ahead of his originally scheduled release date, on account of good behavior. Pollard spent the last six years behind bars following a whirlwind 2014, when the rapper—on the heels of releasing the most inescapable song in the country—was arrested on charges of conspiracy and weapons possession. The state held him on $2 million bail. Shmurda, a rising star in hip-hop, was 22 years old when he took his guilty plea.

He was seen exiting a private jet accompanied by Quavo of the Migos fame, who told Billboard that he’d be personally picking up Shmurda upon his release. 

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In an Instagram post where she is seen FaceTiming with her son, Shmurda’s mother, Leslie Pollard, counted the time that had passed since his incarceration: six years, two months, five days, and five and a half hours. He will be on parole until February 2026.  

NPR’s Louder Than a Riot podcast produced a three-part series on Bobby Shmurda, detailing his rise, his record deal, and the NYPD’s aggressive pursuit of Shmurda and the GS9 crew, which the NYPD described as a violent criminal organization. It also chronicled how Epic Records declined to post bail for Shmurda and Rowdy Rebel, Shmurda’s co-defendant and musical collaborator, after they were arrested. 

Rowdy Rebel was released from prison last December and has already released new music with Nav and Funkmaster Flex. Back in 2016, Shmurda accepted a plea deal so that Rebel would receive a more lenient sentence. 

“That’s how America is,” Shmurda told Complex in 2016. “They got these kids running around with rape charges getting six months and they wanna give me seven years for a gun charge.” Both Shmurda and Rebel were understanding of their record label not bailing them out. “The situation with Epic is the reality: We made our own bed and got to lay in it,” Rebel said to Complex. 

Bobby Shmurda’s situation, in many ways, was a story of the times and what would follow, in both the music industry and the justice system. He got a major deal on the back of a hit song and a dance popularized on Vine, a formula that record labels have continued to chase with TikTok today. Shmurda’s case also illustrated the extent to which the artform of hip-hop itself has become a target for law enforcement in some cities.

“The investigation and prosecution of Bobby Shmurda was really a landmark case,” John Hamasaki said. Hamasaki is a criminal defense lawyer based in Northern California who recently represented Drakeo the Ruler. “We saw all of the elements of the prosecution of hip-hop come together. And if you look back to some of the initial statements from the police, even they were very straight-up that they believed his lyrics were true, and [that] because he was rapping about things he must be doing them.”

In 2014, then NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton, referring to Shmurda’s case, said, “This gang, the ‘G Stone Crips’ or GS9 as they call themselves, has gloated about murder shootings and drug dealing with YouTube videos and vile dance moves.” In 2015, the New Yorker reported that NYPD officer James Essig had said Shmurda’s music was “almost like a real-life document of what they were doing on the street.”

The phenomenon of law enforcement using lyrics in criminal cases is nothing new. “NYPD has had a long history of targeting the hip hop community,” Hamasaki said. “That’s something that we’ve seen across the nation, in California, where these cops are listening to the music and looking at people’s social media, and trying to draw connections that end up criminalizing young black men,” Hamasaki said. 

Many fans have been awaiting Shmurda’s return to Brooklyn, but according to a 2018 interview with NPR, he does not plan to stay there. He will also be taking additional precautions for his safety. “I gotta get security when I go home this time, I know that,” Pollard said. He added that he’d be instructing his non-violating friends to get firearms licenses, “because nobody wants police as security.” 

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