Interview: C Vernon Coleman II
Bobby Shmurda was on the fast track to stardom when a year prison stay threatened to end it all. Now, he’s armed with second chance, a debut album, a new state of mind and some fresh moves.
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
For about eight months back in 2014, Bobby Shmurda was simultaneously New York City’s most buzzing rapper, Vine’s most popular meme and one of the NYPD’s most wanted artists. His viral debut single, the Jahlil Beats-produced “Hot N*gga,” first blew up on YouTube after being initially uploaded in March of that year. Filmed on a street in East Flatbush, N.Y., the visual’s lo-fi, zeitgeist appeal was magnetic and unapologetically raw. It was the brazen lyrics, iconic hat flip and infectious Shmoney dance, which even Beyoncé couldn’t help but imitate. Everyone wanted a piece of Bobby. He signed a deal with Epic Records that July and officially released “Hot N*gga” the following week, which peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. The platinum single “Bobby B*tch” followed that October and the EP Shmurda She Wrote hit the streets that November. Then, on Dec. 17, 2014, it all came crashing down.
Bobby was arrested outside of Quad Recording Studios in midtown Manhattan, as were over a dozen of his GS9 crew. They were charged with a slew of crimes including conspiracy to murder, drug trafficking and more. Bobby took a seven-year plea deal and spent the next six years in New York’s Rikers Island and Clinton Correctional Facility on one count of third-degree conspiracy and one count of weapons possession. He was released on Feb. 23, 2021, to much fanfare. Since then, the 27-year-old rapper has been trying to recapture the spark that had him lit.
After parting ways with Epic and going through different management, Bobby is taking his career in his own hands with the relaunch of his GS9 Records imprint in partnership with ONErpm as a distributor. He released his upcoming EP featuring the rambunctious single “Hoochie Daddy” in August. Now, his debut album, Ready to Live, is scheduled for the end of the year, but has no guaranteed date yet. The project includes collabs with Meek Mill, DaBaby, Key Glock, 42 Dugg and Rich The Kid, among others.
In late July, XXL spoke with Bobby Shmurda and discussed how his prison bid changed him, the pros and cons of going independent, his debut album and more.
XXL: How difficult was it going from being one of the hottest new rappers in 2014 to having to sit down for over six years?
Bobby Shmurda: Shit, man. I been bad all my life. Sitting down for six years, shit, I was only in the industry for five months. So, I wasn’t really too attached like that. It went right back to the basics when I got to jail. It ain’t really hit me ’til like the second, third year.
Did you make an effort to change your image when you got out?
My image right now is who I am. I’ve always been a wild nigga. I’m a nigga that you don’t see every day. That’s why it’s entertainment. You ain’t gon’ see too many niggas that will shoot you and smile. It’s different. I just don’t let them niggas take my soul. I don’t let them niggas take my happiness. So, I’ma live life to the fullest. I did six years. I wanna be around pussy all day. Real niggas and a bunch of pussy. And a whole lot of money.
What was the biggest change that occurred in the six years you were locked up?
I feel like my mind state. Today is the first day I receive my independent check. So, this will be the first time I will be receiving a check for my music through my whole years. That was one of my plans I was fighting for. So, me now setting that up is a beautiful thing. Now, I’m ready to jump into endorsements, releasing music and all of that.
You adjusted to social media quickly. Obviously, it wasn’t as big when you went in, but it’s a huge marketing tool now.
Social media is everything. Social media and streaming. Before, [the record labels] controlled everything with music. Social media is freedom now. You just gotta know what’s real and what ain’t. As long as you push a positive narrative. Like me, I’m pushing girls. I’m trying to push girls on the young boys, not guns. Those type of narratives I feel like need to be taken more serious.
Who has been one of the biggest influences on your change? Or what is something you decided to do yourself?
Me. ’Cause I can’t say I can relate to everybody. I don’t know no other rapper or no other artist that been through the shit I been through. So, I can’t sit here and say I relate to them and see how they changing this and that. Shit, I ain’t been to school since I was in fifth grade. I been selling crack, in and out of jail since. I’m 27 years old. Seventeen years of wildin’, in and out of jails, since I was 10 or 11. So, it’s certain shit I done seen. So, it’s about telling the young boys out here, life is ready to live. Get ready to live. Life is everything. Play no games with that.
How much do you feel your prison stay set you back?
I feel like shit has set me forward. If I didn’t go to jail, I probably would have killed somebody or did some crazy shit and been locked up for life. I was a bugout before. I had some situations that I thank God never came up that guns was pulled. All types of situations outside of clubs and shit. Before I was Bobby Shmurda. And lucky that I had certain people with me to restrain me to do whatever that I could have lost my life at certain points. That whole situation, it shows growth. I think I would never have security if I never went to jail. Right now, I’m currently trying to build a security company. I got some security people. So, just certain shit I’m doing. I got a clinic right now. Part-owner in some clinics. Part-owner in some apps. I have a rental business right now. I got a weed business jumping off with the EP. I got a clothing brand coming.
You went from Epic, now you have your own situation with GS9 Records. What made you want to go indie?
My goal is to see the residual income. See residual income and learn how to be the owner of my own music, my own art. Getting paid off my own worth. [Indie artists] making more money actually off their music than the superstars. Superstars just getting more fame. It’s either you want fame or you want the change. I want the change. I want the money. I ain’t never been a clout-chaser.
A lot of rappers are going independent and figuring out how to make that work.
It’s streaming, now. Streaming is everything, now. They never gon’ tell you that. Streaming is where the money coming in.
What’s your relationship with Epic now?
Me and Epic no longer together. They made me sign an NDA, so I can’t talk about them. All I can say, I can breathe now. That’s it.
Most rappers who come home from jail rush to put out a new project, but you took your time.
I was trying to put out a project, but I just wasn’t in control. But now that I’m running my own label, I understand. That shit takes time. There’s pros and cons to everything.
Do you feel pressure to drop a hit song after the major success of “Hot N*gga”?
Hell no, because I know how much money I made. See, the success is different. I hate when they say success. I got the fame off of it. I sold 7-8 million [records] for them and I only had $2-$3 million.
I feel like the difference is with the labels. You just broadcasted more with the [major] labels. You broadcasted more when you on a label because they own the music, so they gonna broadcast they music more. When you independent, you gon’ be where you demanded at.
You’re considered one of the pioneers of Brooklyn drill music, how does it feel to have that title?
I don’t do drill music. I do outside music. Drill music like a certain sound to me. I don’t do that sound. My shit is just like bodboy music. And rude boys, top shottas music. It’s just like a whole different vibe. It’s like concrete Brooklyn rap with a Jamaican swag on it.
What are your feelings on the subgenre these days?
I jacked it. I liked it. That’s what Kay Flock and Pop Smoke and them had that shit going crazy.
Your upcoming new album is called Ready to Live. The title is obviously a play on The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die. What made you want to make that stance?
I was born bad. So, I’m trying to go from negative to positive. I was born in the slums. I have stories that I don’t want. Coming from being there, nigga be ready to live any chance he get. I ain’t lived yet.
Have you always had the ready-to-live mind state or is that something you matured into?
I think I was always ready to live, I just found out what it was. I take life as serious as it comes. It was just that me seeing everything, seeing what I was and becoming and seeing what I was and shaping it, informing it. I always had all this energy, but knowing where to put it at, knowing what to call it. Sometimes we be lost. I didn’t know what the fuck I was when I was in the streets. Some people say I was crazy. Some people say I’ma demon. I was always ready to live. That was it.
You recently said you would like to get into acting. Is that something you’ve always had in the back of your mind or is that a recent revelation?
I used to sell crack, shoot the block up and babysit at the same time. Everything. I like to stay active, stay busy, so, I ain’t getting in no trouble. So, I think music and acting is the best. Because music is fun, I love music. But I feel like I got ADD. I like to do a bunch of different things. I just don’t like the vanilla ice cream. I want the chocolate ice cream and I want the strawberry, too. I do wild different things.
What kind of roles would you like to take on?
I wanna surprise people.
If they got a gangsta version of Stomp the Yard, you might get a call.
Why it gotta be Stomp the Yard? Y’all ain’t never seen a gangsta dancing before? Ayo, you know what’s crazy? I make killers dance. I used to be up in jail and niggas who had like 40 to life, 30 to life, them niggas been up in jail for like 30 years, 40 years, they be like—I don’t know it’s just something about me, bro—they be like, “How the fuck you got this nigga smiling up in here dancing? Forty years I done seen this nigga in here. He don’t ever dance.” I make everybody dance. I don’t know. It’s like after I demonstrate myself, it shows that you ain’t gotta be that serious.
You were in a situation similar to Young Thug’s current YSL case. What advice would you give any rappers coming up who still have ties to the street life?
I want everybody to know, they looking for a reason. They always looking for a reason because y’all young, y’all Black, y’all coming out these neighborhoods with a lot of money. Police do not like that. They gonna try to call us a conspiracy. They gonna try to say we a gang. Everybody gotta be smart. Just be smart about everything.
Read Bobby Shmurda's full interview in the 25th anniversary issue of XXL, on newsstands now. Check out additional interviews in the magazine, including our cover story with Eminem, Yung Miami, JID, Yvngxchris, GloRilla, SleazyWorld Go, Yvngxchris, Styles P, Jim Jones, Symba, Reason, singer Jessie Reyez, actor Trevante Rhodes and music executive Katina Bynum. The issue also includes a deep dive into a narrative piece on the U.S. court systems' battle against rap lyrics, rappers’ longstanding connection to anime, the renewed interest music supervisors have in placing 1990’s hip-hop in today’s lauded TV series and the 254 past covers in XXL history.