Billboard is celebrating the 2010s with essays on the 100 songs that we feel most define the decade that was — the songs that both shaped and reflected the music and culture of the period — with help telling their stories from some of the artists, behind-the-scenes collaborators and industry insiders involved.
In March 2014, 19-year-old Bobby Shmurda flipped his blue and grey New York Knicks hat into the air, and a legend was born.
At the time, hip-hop was dominated by young, hungry MCs from the South and the West Coast, while the genre’s traditional home turf of New York was searching for its next star. And in the music video for “Hot N—a,” with Shmurda and his friends mobbing on their Brooklyn block and the young rapper tossing that fateful hat that never came down — then turning his back to the camera and grooving in the lackadaisical manner that quickly became known as the Shmoney Dance — the city found its answer.
“I saw that video, and I was just blown away,” says Sha Money XL, then executive vp of urban music at Epic Records, who signed Shmurda to the label. “New York was looking for something new. Here’s some kids from Brooklyn, and you could see it — it just had the right New York energy that we could support, and the whole city got behind it immediately.”
Shmurda had uploaded the video to his YouTube page without any label backing of any kind, and the song itself was him rapping over a Lloyd Banks freestyle that had been produced by Jahlil Beats two years before. (Sha Money, after seeing the video at just 2,000 views, bought the instrumental from Jahlil Beats when he signed Shmurda, in order to release the song.)
But it was a six-second Vine clip of the music video, capturing the hat flip and the dance, that took off and went viral. Soon enough the song was a staple in clubs all along the East Coast, Shmurda was gracing stages alongside Fabolous and Meek Mill, Rihanna was posting Instagram videos doing the Shmoney dance and Beyoncé was doing it on stage alongside Jay Z.
“The Shmoney Dance escalated the phenomenon to another level and contributed to the song’s global appeal,” says Sylvia Rhone, then Epic’s president and now its chairman/CEO. “At the center of it all was Bobby’s charisma which really gave it that X-Factor. He had street cred and larger-than-life appeal. We knew the song’s raw underground authenticity and Bobby’s charisma would connect with a much wider audience.”
The phenomenon, in the end, didn’t last long — before the year was out, Shmurda and his GS9 crew had been locked up on conspiracy and gun charges, and Bobby remains in jail to this day. But what “Hot N—a” and the Bobby Shmurda craze accomplished was something that few in the city ever have — bringing the spotlight back to New York when, to many, it was time for other cities to shine. And in his wake, his success has allowed more of the city’s new wave of rappers to take the baton and shine.
“That was the real deal New York that we all wanted to see, that I hadn’t seen since 50 Cent,” Sha Money says. “New York needed a new savior, a new champion. And that was Bobby. To this day, he’s still the best one that came since then.”