Bobby Shmurda is still in jail. The 21-year-old East Flatbush native, born Ackquille Pollard, was arrested December 17, 2014, on charges of conspiracy to commit murder, multiple weapons possession, and reckless endangerment. His arrest was part of a 15-person, 69-count indictment that alleges he is the ringleader of a Crips branch known as GS9. Pollard plead not guilty on all counts, and his bail was set at $2m, likely due to the highly publicized seven-figure deal the rapper had just signed with Epic Records (a division of Sony Music).
Unable to post the $2m bail, Pollard rounded up the 10-percent bond, but the state demanded collateral against the entire $2m, which he couldn’t provide. With his trial set to start February 22, he remains in jail more than a year after his arrest, while his lawyers look for new strategies in his case. Inside Rikers Island, he’s fallen right back into the Trap that got him there. On January 11, his legal team announced their intention in court to investigate the records of his arresting officers, who have been accused in the past of planting evidence, making false arrests and violating citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights. But Pollard, who has yet to be convicted of a crime, still spent all of 2015 in jail, and will remain there for the foreseeable future. And he’s not alone (more on that later).
The first question that comes to mind when hearing the Shmurda Saga is an obvious one: “Where is the label?” When Epic signed Pollard to his huge deal (of which, details were limited to “seven figures”) they knew he was involved in at least a little dirt. In fact, that’s likely the very reason they signed him. In an interview with the Rap Radar podcast, LA Reid — Epic’s chairman and CEO — admits as much: “…when I heard him, I believed him,” Reid said. “That’s what sold me. It felt soulful. It didn’t feel like someone was play acting and it felt really believable. And, I guess it was.”
This statement sounds even more odious when considering the video of Pollard’s soft-shoe performance in the Epic offices after signing the deal that he thought would get him out of the Trap. There’s nothing soulful about it; Pollard thought this was his ticket out, Epic was happy to cash the checks that came rolling in with the viral success of the Bobby Shmurda hit “Hot Nigga,” and that summer, everyone was doing the Shmoney Dance. They had no qualms releasing his crime-and-murder themed EP Shmurda She Wrote. But after Pollard was arrested, Epic couldn’t run away fast enough. Sitting in jail, he waited for his benefactors to come to his aid. As he told The New York Times in an interview from the Manhattan Detention Complex: “When I got locked up, I thought they were going to come for me, but they never came.”
In most employment situations, if you fuck up in your personal life, especially with the law, you’re pretty much on your own. They didn’t put you in that jam, so it’s not their responsibility to bail you out. But Pollard’s case isn’t so simple. Not only did Epic actively exploit Pollard’s criminal lifestyle brand for millions, but their huge coffers are directly responsible for his inability to post bail. Does his bail get set at $2m without that record deal he just signed?
There’s precedent for record labels bailing out rappers with legal troubles. Sean “Puffy” Combs may have washed his hands of his Bad Boy Records protegé Shyne (born Jamal Barrow) after he was tried and convicted on a gun charge, but Combs did post his $10,000 bail. 50 Cent once bailed out former G-Unit crew member Young Buck. And of course, Suge Knight famously bailed out Death Row Records rappers Snoop Dogg and 2Pac, even as Time Warner, who owned Death Row’s parent label Interscope, took massive heat in the press for their association. The difference here is that Interscope stood to make millions off future recordings from those artists (plus, their defense cases were considerably stronger than Pollard’s appears to be), while Pollard was deemed to be not worth the trouble. Reid admits as much, essentially telling the Rap Radar podcast that he wasn’t profitable enough to justify the expense and bad P.R.
“Bobby Shmurda is not the same as Snoop Dogg and ‘Murder Was the Case,’ who’s coming off The Chronic,” Reid said. “It’s a different era, you know? And we’re a publicly held corporation. We just aren’t in the same position we were in back in those days so it’s a different day.” Reid didn’t stop there, later telling Rolling Stone that Epic was merely at the mercy of a retracting recorded music industry, and that he just can’t afford to pay Pollard’s bail. “We seriously don’t make the money we used to make,” he said. “That’s a fact of life.”
It’s also total bullshit. The overall size of the recorded music industry has certainly shrunk from its bloated peak in the early aughts, but merchandising and touring continue to grow. LA Reid and his ilk are doing just fine, shifting their mode of exploitation to encompass any and every way an artist they sign can make money, also known as the “360 deal.” Details on the Bobby Shmurda deal are scant, but we’re comfortable assuming that Epic’s deal wasn’t limited to the rapper’s recording revenues. And if it’s anything like the deal Chief Keef signed with Interscope, much of those “seven figures” were likely conditional.
Sadly, none of this would even be an issue if the bail system — specifically in New York City, though it’s a national crisis — wasn’t so profoundly broken. Special Narcotics Prosecutor Nigel Farinha argued against the defense’s request for their client to be released pending the trial, citing both his ties to Florida and net worth of $500,000. Yes, the prosecutor says that because the defendant has $500,000, he should remain in jail on $2m bail that he obviously can’t pay, because, you know, he only has $500,000! It’s worth noting here that Pollard was able to raise the 10 percent required for a bond (which, unlike bail, is not returned to the defendant upon acquittal), but as we mentioned before, the court refused to release him, requiring collateral on the entire $2m bail. Epic wouldn’t even have to shell out a dime to secure Pollard’s bond with collateral, but it’s clear that Reid and Epic just want nothing more to do with his case at all.
But why would the judges in Pollard’s case set such exorbitant bail? Why would they continue to deny his attempts to meet the terms, denying his sixth (!!!) attempt at making bail, the latest with help from his aunt, which offered four real estate properties in the New York area as collateral? Could it be that the cash bail system in NYC courts is corrupt, incarcerating citizens before their guilt has been determined, simply because they can’t afford their bail? Isn’t it completely fucked for your right to due process, of innocence before proven guilt, to be determined by material wealth?
Clearly, the charges against Pollard are serious ones. Conspiracy to commit murder is nothing like the phony drug charges brought against Tyrone Tomlin, the lead case study in the recent New York Times Magazine feature “The Bail Trap.” Pollard’s not a low-level offender like “Miguel,” the example used by John Oliver in his Last Week Tonight segment on bail. But these examples illustrate the point of how bail is used versus how it’s supposed to be used. By issuing any bail at all, the judge is saying that the court is OK with the defendant being released, provided they have enough incentive to ensure their presence in court for the trial. If they thought Pollard was too dangerous to be on the street at all, they would have simply denied any bail and kept him in custody indefinitely. But that’s not what happened, because there was clearly no rationale for denying his bail. Instead, the judge just set the bail so high that it would be nearly impossible for him to meet, effectively denying him any bail at all. This is wrong, and Pollard is nowhere close to being the only victim.
For a brief moment, it seemed like one of Bobby Shmurda’s only hopes was the aid of slimeball hedge-fund cretin Martin Shkreli, who told the website HipHopDX.com that he’d love to post Pollard’s bail. “He deserves a fair trial,” Shkreli said. “He deserves good lawyers. He doesn’t have good lawyers. His label is hanging him out to dry…. I’ll show up with $2 million bail money no fucking problem.” The solution never materialized, however, and not just because Shkreli was later arrested on fraud charges. Much like Epic in 2014, Shkreli saw Pollard as a shrewd — if morally corrupt — investment.
“The guy’s going to have to record for me if he comes out. I’ll just come out and say it,” he told HipHopDX.com. “If I’m gonna post his bail, pay for his trial, get him a ‘not guilty’ verdict… I see opportunity… It’s not a lot of money for me.”
This is the state of “gangsta” rap in 2016. It’s beyond grim.