Although he's got the whole world waiting on his next move after seven years away, there's a case to be made for Bobby Shmurda to delay his return to the rap game.
By now, a common practice for rappers re-emerging from prison has been well-established. Amid the flood of celebratory Instagram posts from friends and peers, the first images of them as free men and women begin to circulate and if they’re lucky, audiences will then be treated to a “First Day Out” offering. Spearheaded by Gucci Mane in 2009 before being emulated by everyone from Kodak Black, Young Nudy, Quando Rondo and City Girls’ JT to Offset, Chief Keef and Tee Grizzley, this introductory track is used to let the world know that they haven’t missed a step.
Yet, in the case of the recently-liberated Bobby Shmurda, he’s chosen to abstain from putting the industry on notice in favour of a gentler reintegration to the world he’d left seven years ago. And while he’s deprived fans in the short-term, it’s in keeping with the behaviour of a rapper whose rookie season in hip-hop, sharply curtailed as it was, was defined by pushing against the grain and tunnelling his way to new opportunities that otherwise didn’t exist. Let’s not forget, before an animated Bobby Shmurda exploded out of East Flatbush by reimagining Lloyd Banks’ "Jackpot" on "Hot N***a," there was a state of emergency in NY.
"After [the early 2000s], New York as a city, as a sound, struggled to find our place in the game," Maino reflected during a recent interview with Complex. "Remember, the South started to take over. So by 2011, 2012, 2013, we hadn’t found our sound yet. We hadn’t found what the new sound was."
Then, in 2014, the city that birthed hip-hop was awoken from its slumber by a man who, if his recent comments to GQ are to be believed, was empowered to take the risk because of how little it all actually mattered to him. "This n***a and Mitch, they paid for the video," Bobby Shmurda said while reflecting on the visuals that launched him, and infamously, his hat, into the stratosphere. "I'm like, ‘You going to buy me an outfit? All right, copy.’"
Bobby Shmurda and GS9 members at the BET studio, 2014 - Bennett Raglin/BET/Getty Images
Although no one in the GS9 camp knew it then, both Shmurda and his cohort Rowdy Rebel’s rise to prominence laid out the parameters of a gritty, dance-tinged wave that's been adopted by everyone from 22Gz and Sheff G to Fivio Foreign, the late Pop Smoke and even Staten Island's CJ. Now commonly known as Brooklyn drill, it’s a phrase that didn’t exist in the hip-hop lexicon when Bobby found himself indicted on weapons charges and conspiracy to murder.
His demonstrable impact on New York notwithstanding, "Hot N***a" and its viral success also set the tone for an era in which one track could catapult an unknown into the public consciousness, and receive a sizeable advance from a major label in the process.
For these reasons, and the sense of expectation that comes with any prolonged absence from the game, hip-hop is now longing to hear what the next evolution of Shmurda looks and sounds like, proven in no small part by his back-catalogue experiencing a streaming spike of 624% in the days after his release. Some would argue that Bobby’s newfound grip on the world’s attention dictates that he should be capitalizing immediately.
However, there is something to be said for these exact conditions to also be a case for Bobby to gradually ease himself back into the hip-hop world. While he may have started out as a 19-year-old MC that was unencumbered by expectation, the stakes are now much higher and on top of that, he’s got a lot of catching up to do.
In the years since Bobby last released a project in the form of his Epic Records’ debut Shmurda She Wrote, there has been seismic shifts in both the hip-hop world and the industry’s perception of his relatively slim catalogue. And in any industry, a lot can happen in seven years. But in the fast-paced world of hip-hop, that may as well be a lifetime.
Hailed as a martyr for authenticity in hip-hop and the architect of a movement that he’s finally returning to, it’s important to remember that Bobby’s entire career essentially accounts for less than a year of active participation in the genre. In the interim, his name was kept alive by those who’ve carried the flag for him, and while an artist such as the similarly influential Max B has kept his profile high from prison, all we’ve received from Shmurda was a guest verse on 6ix9ine’s “STOOPID.” Which, in hindsight, he’d have definitely rejected if he could.
Less than a month after the now iconic footage of Bobby performing "Computers" before a crowd of bemused Epic execs surfaced online, Shmurda entered the federal system. In that time, entire movements have been and gone, with careers prospering and peetering back out again. Unlikely as it seems, Bobby’s come-up took place within the same year as iLoveMakonnen, O.T Genasis and Dej Loaf. As he and his GS9 brothers were brought before the judge in December 2014, Big Sean's “IDFWU” was the highest ranking hip-hop track on the Billboard hot 100. The year that Bobby entered Riker’s Island, Fetty Wap even launched his own chart-conquering offensive that temporarily positioned him as the East Coast’s next great hope. In his absence, hip-hop has also consumed the mainstream like never before.
But rather than the genre simply leaping in commercial appeal, it has also undergone a whole host of tweaks that would’ve seemed implausible back in the days Shmoney Shmurda was first hitting the airwaves. In the seven years since he last curated a project, hip-hop has yielded an emphasis on female stars, a new melodic focus on its vocals, an emo-rap movement and a psychedelic wave as well as a shift in lyrical narrative from drug-pushers to drug-takers.
Migos and Bobby Shmurda attend the 106 & Party at BET studio, 2014 - Bennett Raglin/BET/Getty Images
In the underground, coke-rap has reemerged in the image of artists such as Griselda and Stove God Cooks, while in the mainstream, online clout chasing has become a primary means of marketing. To put this into even sharper focus, recent breakout star The Kid LAROI was 11 when Bobby entered the penitentiary, while Quavo, the man who picked Shmurda up from jail on a private jet, wouldn’t even release “Bad and Boujee” for a further two years.
Meanwhile, any insight Bobby had into what was happening was either secondhand or from what he’d heard on the inside. It’d make sense for Bobby to take his time and discover where he fits into the genre’s new ecosystem, considering both the amount of change that the genre’s experienced and the 'Brooklyn Drill forefather' title that the rapper has been recently bestowed.
Beyond just the landscape around Shmurda changing, however, the man himself changed. Bobby Shmurda was taken from society just as he’d become a star, and he did not necessarily get to savour, let alone experience, the new lifestyle that his music afforded him. However through his time in prison, he became aware of the impact that he’d made on everyday people.
"I didn't really care too much for it until I went to jail and I saw how the fans were loyal…," he told GQ while reflecting on his journey. "A six-year-old girl wrote to me; she said I was her favorite rapper… That let me know the kids are watching me, and I have to be a role model."
Upgraded from a frivolous pastime to a role that Bobby approaches with considerable responsibility, this change in perspective has seen Shmurda also adopt some grand ambitions. On top of telling Complex that he planned to rap, act and write a book once released, another interview conducted from behind bars saw Shmurda map out his future collaborators.
Bobby Shmurda performing at the BET Hip Hop Awards 2014 - Paras Griffin/FilmMagic/Getty Images
Not only has Bobby's goals, outlook and status in the genre changed, but everything around him has also evolved. Now, he has to find out where he fits into the puzzle and how to live up to his own aspirations.
After all, when you think of successful relaunches after prison, an artist taking their time has often been a factor. Meek Mill took seven months between his release and his re-emergence as a more versatile and socially-conscious rapper than ever before on Championships. And while he headed to the studio immediately, five months elapsed between Pac gaining his freedom and the release of All Eyez On Me.
And considering that both of these artists were in jail for a much shorter spell than Bobby, it seems that letting the dust settle would be the wisest course of action for this New York rapper. When you find yourself as a returning hero, armed with the love and gratitude of an entire culture, you're going to want to come out swinging.