The case of Ackquille Jean Pollard, better known as rap star Bobby Shmurda, is a strange story framed by the media as one of fast fame, felonious friends, and failed promise. But when one peels back the layers, there’s a more frustrating and confounding tale unfolding. It involves prejudice and incompetence, raising important questions about how music and image factor into systemic biases. It’s about the relationship between race, class, and criminal punishment. It’s about how young artists can be exploited by the industry machine. And it’s about a family fighting desperately for a hard-luck young man who seemed to be on the cusp of realizing all of his dreams—only to have it all come crashing down in a span of months.
In late 2014, Pollard was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder, reckless endangerment, and drug and gun possession. Fourteen other members of his GS9 crew were also arrested on a grand total of 69 counts, with their charges including murder, attempted murder, assault, attempted assault, and drug-dealing. He reportedly rejected an eight-year plea deal, and faces up to 25 years in prison.
According to police, the rap star, who’d just become a household name via his hit single “Hot Nigga,” was alleged to have been “the driving force” behind GS9’s extralegal activities. During an ensuing press conference, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton went as far as alleging that GS9 stood for “G-Stone Crips,” adding, “This gang…gloated about murder, shooting and drug-dealing in YouTube videos and viral dance moves.”
In the aforementioned hit “Hot Nigga,” which gained viral fame for its “Shmoney Dance,” the 21-year-old rapped about gunplay and money—not unlike many other rappers. But in the case of Pollard, police have claimed on numerous occasions that his rap lyrics were indicative of a very real, very violent lifestyle he actually lived, or as James Essig, head of the Brooklyn South Violence Reduction Task Force that took down Pollard, put it, his songs and music videos were “like a real-life document of what they were doing in the street.”
“Like I talk to Shyste when I shot niggas Like you seen em twirl then he drop, nigga And we keep them 9 milli's on my block, nigga And Monte keep it on him, he done dropped niggas And Trigger he be wilding, he some hot nigga Tones known to get busy with them Glocks, nigga Try to run down and you can catch a shot, nigga.” – (“Hot Nigga”)
Pollard, for his part, told The New York Times in an interview from prison that his lyrics were “fabricated” because “that’s what’s selling nowadays.”
Despite some minor infractions as a juvenile and an ongoing investigation involving a curious June 2014 gun incident, where police claim they saw Pollard flashing a handgun in his Brooklyn apartment and upon investigating, caught him attempting to hide a 9mm Glock pistol between the cushions of his couch, Pollard has never been convicted of a violent crime. But he’s being held in jail on $2 million in bail. And in this case, he isn’t being accused of committing a violent act himself—but of possession and being a conspirator.
So why does it seem like the court is intent on keeping Pollard behind bars until his trial date?
In early December, there was widespread speculation that Pollard was on the verge of becoming a free man after spending almost a full year behind bars. With bondsman Ira Judelson and Pollard’s aunt Janelle DeFreitas offering up four real estate properties in the New York as collateral, the star’s family was reportedly ready to post the pricey bond for the rapper’s release; and his legal team was prepared to present documentation to the court to account for every dime of the bond presented. But when presented to the Manhattan Supreme Court, Judge James Burke denied his bail—for the sixth time—and Pollard has remained incarcerated.
Pollard’s attorney, Alex Spiro, who declined to comment on the specifics of the case, has seemingly exhausted every avenue to gain the rapper’s release, and his client will likely remain incarcerated until his trial date. For a defendant with no prior convictions, the way that Pollard’s legal situation has played out is mind-boggling.
“He’s not charged with committing any acts of violence with his own hands,” an unnamed source close to the proceedings told The Daily Beast. “It’s all based on his words; his raps and the bullshit he says on the phone. It’s not based on him actually doing anything violent.”
Pollard, for his part, has been insistent that the charges are baseless. “When I see the judge and the DA, I just see a bunch of people [who are] trying to take my life away for being blessed,” Pollard told Billboard in February. “That’s what I look at when I look at them. It looks like a bunch of haters.”
Pollard and many of his GS9 associates grew up in either the same building or on the same block of East Flatbush, Brooklyn, and from the moment his career took off in 2014, his crew has been at the forefront of his music and conversation. Were they a gang? Were they a rap group? Were they just neighborhood friends? The lines seem to be a bit blurry. Nonetheless, police were able to secure wiretaps for GS9 and Pollard was on some of the recordings. Much of what’s been published from those recordings could be construed as not all that different from the kinds of conversations guys from tough neighborhoods always have, with Pollard discussing who got shot and advising his friends to be careful to not wind up in handcuffs.
A redacted version of the full 63-page indictment against Pollard and GS9 was posted online, revealing that the NYPD had been wiretapping Pollard and his GS9 crew since at least early 2013, and that much of the phone recordings consist of other GS9 members discussing Pollard’s supposed exploits (his alias allegedly being “Chewy”), including an alleged incident where Pollard shot at his brother, Javese Pollard (aka “Fame”), after getting into an argument in front of a barbershop. According to the indictment, the most damning evidence on the police recordings from Pollard’s actual lips is a telephone conversation wherein Pollard allegedly told his brother about shooting an anonymous member of a rival gang, with Pollard vaguely stating, “you know I suntan him and shot, do issues, you know what’s going on.”
In the midst of the NYPD’s surveillance on GS9, Pollard became a viral sensation after a Vine of him performing his “Shmoney Dance” to “Hot Nigga” among friends in their neighborhood was picked up by WorldStarHipHop. Soon thereafter, the song was racing up the charts and everyone from Rihanna to LeBron James was doing the dance. Just a week after his gun charge, the then-20-year-old kid from Flatbush signed a deal with Epic and was recorded dancing around a conference table for execs at the Sony offices that summer. “[Epic] grabbed me up at a vulnerable time,” Pollard told the Times, adding, “I was desperate to get out of the ’hood. I knew I was going to lose my life or go to jail.”
But it was all bad for his future.
When Pollard and GS9 members were arrested in December, many speculated that it was fame that brought the police down hard on him. There had been incidents involving members of the crew in both Miami and New York, but Pollard hadn’t been implicated. His hit song, sources claim, had made him a target and his associates made it relatively easy for police to make an example out of him.
There have been a series of odd incidents that appear to back up this claim. Back on Feb. 26, the rapper was conducting a phone interview from prison with the radio station Hot 97 when the call mysteriously cut off right when he began criticizing the details that have been publicized surrounding the night of his arrest at Manhattan’s notorious Quad Studios—the very place where Tupac was once shot.“Nah,” he replied when asked if he was caught with drugs or guns on his person. “What they hearing about that night is bullshit, it’s not true,” he said. “The cops been out for me for forever. They been tryna slay me forever, but they never catch me with nothing. It might be four or five cops that night that grabbed me up, they told me, ‘Yo I don’t want my kids listening to your music, this and that…’”
Then the line went dead.
The show’s host, Ebro Darden, seemed to back up some of Pollard’s claims, saying, “I have firsthand accounts of people who were there when the whole thing went down with GS9 at the studio that said to me—and these aren’t Bobby’s friends, these are people that work at the studio, and it was more than one person that literally said [the police said], ‘I can’t believe you guys are supporting this kid and helping him make music. People like him should be locked behind bars.’”
Some have also cried foul concerning a very bizarre incident that allegedly occurred back in July. An 18-year-old woman named Kimberly Rousseau visited Pollard at Riker’s Island and, according to court papers, was spotted by a guard attempting to hand a “sharpened metal object” to Pollard during visitation. The object, described by the Bronx Attorney’s Office as a “home-made knife,” had allegedly been hidden in a latex balloon wrapped in black electrical tape and stored inside her bra. Media outlets and police officials were quick to label Rousseau as Pollard’s “girlfriend,” but sources in Pollard’s camp have repeatedly claimed that Pollard does not have a girlfriend, and that the young woman was a “random fan” who finagled her way into a prison visit with him. And, despite facing up to seven years in prison on charges of promoting prison contraband and criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree, Rousseau was somehow able to score a plea deal and be tried as a juvenile, with her criminal record expunged if she isn’t arrested for a year.
In addition to these head-scratching incidents, keeping Pollard in jail not only breaks his will, but also makes him more likely accept a plea deal—it’s hard not to take a deal when you’ve been imprisoned for a year. The rapper’s trial was initially set to begin on Oct. 5 of last year, and has since been pushed back to Feb. 22, 2016.
Furthermore, after going through three attorneys, the rapper has seen little to no progress.
When he signed with Epic, it was primarily because the label claimed it wanted him and GS9—it offered him his own GS9 label. But after he was jailed, the label famously ignored his situation. “I’m crazy about that kid [Shmurda] and I think about him often,” Epic head L.A. Reid told Rolling Stone this past September. As for not covering their artist’s bail, he claimed, “We seriously don’t make the money we used to make. That’s a fact of life…Bobby Shmurda is not the same as Snoop Dogg and Murder Was The Case, who’s coming off The Chronic and his first album. It’s a different era, ya 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.”
Ackquille Jean Pollard is likely behind bars right now because he is Bobby Shmurda. Because he became famous for a song in which he rapped about committing crimes, and because he’s associated with guys who have committed crimes. Otherwise, even with his charges, he wouldn’t have been hit with a $2 million bail, and he’d be fighting his case via meetings with his attorneys at their offices—not in a closely watched correctional facility. Regardless of how anyone feels about his music, hip-hop, or the history of police bias against African Americans, there should be serious concern that this kind of thing can happen, and that all those who have a hand in this apparent farce are being allowed to wash their hands of it and let the chips fall where they may.
And it looks, more than ever, like they are falling squarely on the shoulders of Bobby Shmurda alone.