But as Shmurda's wildest dreams were coming true, the New York Police Department was closing in on him. At about 4 a.m. on Dec. 17, nine days after the rap artist appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! to promote his Shmurda She Wrote EP, cops stormed Times Square's Quad Studios, where Shmurda was recording (and where 2Pac was shot in 1994). Police also executed search warrants in East Flatbush. In total, they rounded up 15 GS9 members, including Shmurda's older brother, Javase, 22. Officials claim they seized 10 weapons in the sweep, along with a small amount of crack.
The following day, in a joint press conference, the NYPD and Special Narcotics Prosecutor's Office delivered an indictment based on a yearlong investigation that accused GS9 members of 69 counts (later upped to 101), including conspiracy, second-degree murder (for a 2013 bodega shooting), attempted murder (for a 2014 shooting that struck an innocent bystander) and reckless endangerment (for June gunfire outside a Brooklyn barbershop). Also during the press conference, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton alleged that GS9 stood for "G-Stone Crips" adding, "This gang ... gloated about murder, shooting and drug-dealing in YouTube videos and viral dance moves."
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Further, the accusation alleged that "the driving force behind the GS9 gang and organizing figure within this particular conspiracy" was one Ackquille Pollard, aka Bobby Shmurda. ("He 'murdered' every track he did," his mother says about her son's stage name.) Prosecutors charged Shmurda with conspiracy to commit murder and assault, weapons possession, reckless endangerment and criminal use of drug paraphernalia. While the prosecution has not identified a GS9 hierarchy, it says his "status" made others defer to him. "That shit is bullshit," insists Shmurda. Asked about the charges, he says, "Bullshit." He offers, "I come from a bad neighborhood. They're upset that somebody my age made it out and is making so much money."
At the arraignment, a district attorney painted a vivid picture of an apartment door opening last June to reveal the then-19-year-old sitting on the couch in a "known trap location" (a place where the DA says GS9 allegedly stored weapons), showing a loaded automatic pistol to one of his co-defendants, the air rife with pot smoke. The defense, meanwhile, says Shmurda is an easy scapegoat because he's famous. "They're looking to make an example of this kid and put a feather in their cap," says Shmurda's attorney Kenneth Montgomery. "It's all a big show for NYPD and prosecutors."
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Shmurda's roller-coaster rise and fall has given the rap star's rags-to-riches narrative a 2015 twist: Social media made him famous overnight, but it made him famous for a life he says he was trying to escape. Viral success gave him what he called a "big ticket" out of the hood, but also evidently helped increase the scrutiny of law enforcement. Today, he languishes in jail, unable to make bail -- bail set at $2 million, the same amount as his Epic contract.
WORKING THE REGISTER last month at Brooklyn's M&L Seafood Boutique, the takeout fish joint she opened in June, Shmurda's mother and manager, Leslie Pollard, 40, has curly, red-tinted hair and an aura of fearlessness. Her son's friends describe Shmurda as a mama's boy. ("He calls his mom all the time," one grumbled. "He hasn't called me once.") Pollard insists that her youngest is being targeted because he has made a name for himself. "They're saying that because this group of young men hangs together, and things happen, that they're all 'conspiring' to do these things," she says. "It's not a gang situation: These are kids who grew up together from 3 and 4 years old."
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In 1994, Pollard, pregnant with second son Ackquille, moved from Miami back to East Flatbush, the largely West Indian section of ungentrified Brooklyn where she had grown up. According to the Florida Department of Corrections web site, Ackquille's father, Gervase Johnson, 41, was charged with attempted first-degree murder the same month Ackquille was born. In 1995, Johnson was sentenced to life in prison.
As a kid, Shmurda was always coming up with songs. "If there was a stage, he'd get on it," his mother says. At 18, shortly after being let out of detention on a 2012 gun charge, he wrote "Hot N---a," with a beat from producer Jahlil Beats. The song, a boastful anthem about GS9's fearlessness and firepower, is full of lines like "I been selling crack since like the fifth grade." In the past, Shmurda has said his songs are autobiographical. Now, he insists his lyrics aren't literal. "I just want to be like 50 Cent or Jay Z," he says. "Fiction rap."
"I do know that Bobby Shmurda isn't proud of his background," says Ebro Darden, morning show host at WQHT (Hot 97) New York. "When we broke his record, he expressed that to me. He doesn't want to just be what his neighborhood is about -- just a statistic. He was trying to have fun."
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Early in 2014, Shmurda and his GS9 squad filmed a no-budget video for "Hot N---a" on the streets outside their apartments, mugging for the camera and intermittently pantomiming firing guns. About halfway through the clip, posted to YouTube in March, Shmurda casually flings his Knicks hat into the air, folds in his shoulders as if to indicate the unbearable weight of his own awesomeness and waves his arms while cocking his hips. Uploaded to Vine in June, this six-second routine went so epically viral that, within a matter of weeks, the "Shmoney Dance" became a worldwide meme. Soon, Beyoncé, Peyton Manning and Kevin Hart were caught on film imitating Shmurda's silly, swaggy moves -- along with grandmothers, college students, Elmo and an American soldier in Iraq.
Amid the frenzy, Epic made him an offer. "I met with Shmurda and didn't let him leave," Sha Money, executive vp urban A&R, told Billboard in October. "I wanted to be in business that day." (An Epic representative says the company stands by Shmurda and he's still one of the label's artists, but Epic refused multiple requests for further comment.)
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After "Hot N---a" went viral, Shmurda spent 2014 touring nonstop, leading caravans of friends and fans from Brooklyn to shows all over the country. "He was very much overwhelmed by everything happening all at once," says his mother. DJ Mustard hit him up on Twitter, Drake brought him onstage to perform and French Montana invited him to video shoots. But throughout, friends say he remained quirky and open, a childlike guy who would jump into a pickup football game in the park, and he handled the attention with good humor: When TMZ confronted him on a sidewalk, he cheerfully taught the cameraman how to do the Shmoney Dance.
"He's like a puppy," says GS9's P-Gutta, Shmurda's tour manager. "He wants to be lovable ... He's an innocent kind of guy."
Around the neighborhood, Shmurda became a hero -- and his fame changed the place. Some GS9 members got "Shmoney" tattoos. His manic, goofy presence created a new vibe for a neighborhood that often had been somber. GS9 member Cash, 22, says local parties became fun in a way they hadn't been for years: "He made the gangsters dance."
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Shmurda found deliverance from the hood's hopelessness, moving to a new, quiet, mostly Korean neighborhood in Brooklyn. "There was never no trouble," he says. That feeling lasted less than six months.
THE STATE'S INDICTMENT argues that even as Shmurda was getting famous, he was involved with guns, drugs and plots against GS9's enemies. In one call recorded in May 2013, Shmurda allegedly admits to shooting a rival gang member, and in another, on April 28, 2014, he says, "I am Two Socks Bobby right now." (According to the DA, "sock" was code for "gun.") On June 1, less than a month before "Hot N---a" broke out, prosecutors say Shmurda and his brother got into an argument outside a Brooklyn barbershop. According to the charges read at the arraignment, Javase punched his brother in the face and Shmurda retaliated by shooting back, shattering a window and endangering people inside the shop. (Evidence gathered, according to a city press release, includes surveillance video, inmates' recorded phone conversations, DNA and ballistics test results, seized narcotics and eyewitness accounts.)
The indictment claims that GS9 is responsible for 14 shootings in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Miami in 2014 alone, and that members of the group were caught selling crack to undercover police. The most serious charge against GS9 is second-degree murder. Shmurda isn't accused of being present for the February 2013 shooting of 19-year-old Bryan Antoine, allegedly a rival-gang member, but the dead boy's mother, Rudelsia McKenzie-Hassan, resents the aura of celebrity the rapper provided to GS9: "He was their meal ticket. Without him, they would be nobody. They would be scums on the street killing people. That's what they do best."
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Kenneth Montgomery says that his client is no gang leader, just the most famous person in a crime-ridden area. "Mr. Pollard is not accused of shooting or assaulting anyone, nor was he found in receipt of any drugs," he says. "It's sad to me that this kid is facing the possibility of his career being ruined over something like this. He's a bright and talented young kid." ("The charge is conspiracy," counters Special Prosecutor spokeswoman Kati Cornell. "Not just the people pulling the trigger are responsible for the shootings. Individuals play different roles.")
Shmurda hopes bail will come through. (In court, prosecutors estimated the rapper's net worth at $500,000 -- his mother says it's less than that, with Shmurda adding, "I haven't been around for a year, so I didn't make $2 million.") There initially was talk of Epic putting up money, but not now. "They're not standing by me that much," Shmurda says. "Every time I call them, there's excuses about [parent company] Sony. I haven't gotten a visit from one of them yet. At first I thought it was love. Now everything is all business." His label may be distant, but other artists aren't: While in custody, Shmurda has talked with Meek Mill, French Montana and Migos. "Shout out to everybody showing love."
"It's sad how something like this could happen," says "Hot N---a" collaborator Jahlil Beats. "Hopefully he can get back to making music. That kid is a star."
Even Shmurda's fellow inmates agree. "Every time I walk the halls, I see people and they yell out, 'Ah ah!,' " he says. "I get a lot of love in here." But jail hasn't been easy: "It's survival of the fittest."
Meanwhile, "Hot Boy," which has sold 830,000 downloads, according to Nielsen Music, is still in steady rotation at Hot 97.
Shmurda's next hearing date is March 18. For the most serious of his conspiracy charges, the viral rap star could face up to 25 years in prison. A conviction on the second-degree weapons possession charges could bring up to 15 years -- for each of the six counts. But Shmurda, who says the first thing he'll do when he gets out is "write some platinum songs," remains optimistic: "It started off good last year and it ended up ass. So hopefully it started off bad this year and will end off outrageous."
This story originally appeared in the Feb. 21 issue of Billboard.