Sha Money XL On The Rise of Brooklyn Rapper Bobby Shmurda : Louder Than A Riot Just like his legendary disappearing hat, Brooklyn rapper Bobby Shmurda's career was on the rise in 2014. But so was the evidence in a murder case against his crew, GS9. In the first of three episodes exploring Bobby's story, we look at his come-up through the eyes of former Epic Records exec Sha Money XL, who guided Bobby on his tightrope walk from the streets to superstardom. What happens when the industry capitalizes on a criminal persona? And do record execs have the juice to back Bobby up when things get too hot?
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The Badder, The Better: Bobby Shmurda (Pt 1)

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The Badder, The Better: Bobby Shmurda (Pt 1)

The Badder, The Better: Bobby Shmurda (Pt 1)

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  • Transcript

SIDNEY MADDEN, HOST:

A warning before we begin, this podcast is explicit in every way.

RODNEY CARMICHAEL, HOST:

December 16, 2014, an overcast evening in New York City. And Sha Money XL, he's feeling good. The hip-hop vet and executive VP at Epic Records has just come in from LA. And he's headed to the Quad Studios in midtown Manhattan to meet one of his proteges, 20-year-old rapper Bobby Shmurda.

MADDEN: Sha hasn't felt this excited about an artist since he helped develop 50 Cent and turn him into a household name. But that was over a decade ago.

SHA MONEY XL: I was in the midst of just trying to find stars. And there was nothing I could see that was going on in New York that I could find.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, nothing going on in New York until he heard Bobby Shmurda's song "Hot Boy." It stole the summer and turned the kid from Brooklyn, with this Shmoney Dance and his disappearing hat trick, into an Internet sensation.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOT NIGGA")

BOBBY SHMURDA: (Rapping) In Truey, I'm some hot nigga - hot nigga. Like I talked to Shyste when I shot niggas - but he dead.

SHA MONEY XL: When I seen Bobby, man, I was like, that's New York right there. That's - this is what I'm looking for. So it felt great. It felt great.

CARMICHAEL: And Sha's bet is already paying off. "Hot Boy" just went platinum. And now the pressure is on to prove Bobby is not just a one-hit wonder but a real star. Sha shows up at Quad Studios to check on the progress of Bobby's debut album.

SHA MONEY XL: When I walked in, about 17 people - 15 to 17. It was crowded.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Laughter).

SHA MONEY XL: All the crew, so at least 15 handshakes before I get to Bobby.

MADDEN: (Laughter) Fifteen handshakes - that's because, the way Bobby moves, he doesn't go anywhere without his crew, GS9. They're all from the same block in east Flatbush. And they've known each other forever. Some of them even co-write Bobby's songs. And there's video footage of GS9 taking over Quad.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROWDY REBEL: (Rapping) Raised out of Queens. He was raised out of Brooklyn. I'm from Brooklyn.

CARMICHAEL: That night, Bobby and GS9, man, they're in full celebration mode. Now, six months earlier, these same cats were working corners in the grimy streets of Brooklyn. Now they're in the heart of Manhattan recording music.

MADDEN: And this studio is nice - city views, a pool table, bottles and blunt smoke.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Laughter) Yo, we need some liquor, man. I was going to bring some liquor.

MADDEN: Bobby's happy to see Sha.

SHA MONEY XL: He's playing music. He's excited. He's letting me hear shit I didn't hear, let me hear shit he finished. He's excited. Yo, you got to listen to this one. Yo, play that for Sha.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHE ALL ABOUT THE SHMONEY")

BOBBY SHMURDA: (Rapping) Walk up in this bitch throwing C-notes - notes. What's the G-code? Got her in the back, yelling East Coast. Little bit of Henny with some weed smoke - smoke - and some Clicquot. Tell my freak hoe, give me my drink, hoe.

MADDEN: Later that night, Bobby bounces. Sha and the rest of the crew continue recording. The mood is light. And it's getting past midnight.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROWDY REBEL: You the best. I love you, man.

MADDEN: Guys are shooting pool, laughing.

CARMICHAEL: Then, out of nowhere...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC DISTORTING)

SHA MONEY XL: One of the little homies run in - yo, they just arrested such-and-such downstairs. He just left. He tried to leave the building. They chased him. Yo, look, look, look.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHA MONEY XL: And then, you see a whole bus, a bus, a police bus, pull up on the side street.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHA MONEY XL: Yo, look at this bus. You see nothing but police coming off this bus like a army, a army of them coming off this bus. Like, yo, what the fuck is going on, yo? What the fuck is going on?

MADDEN: Quad Studios was being raided. That night, police arrested 15 members of GS9, including Bobby. And they seized 10 guns. This is a major bust.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MADDEN: Bobby is charged with a whole host of crimes, including conspiracy to commit murder. The arrest is part of an effort to get rid of New York gangs. But in this case, the gang was made up of up-and-coming rappers. And the prosecutors, they're painting Bobby as their leader.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CARMICHAEL: So who exactly is Bobby Shmurda? It all depends on who you ask.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I think the way we characterized him was a driving force.

LESLIE POLLARD: He's a special child, but he's my baby.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: He was an easy target for law enforcement.

FAME: He a real entertainer. That's how he been.

BILL BRATTON: Mindless thugs who have no conception of value of life, no conception of morals.

MADDEN: There's a few different ways to interpret what happened that night at Quad Studios. Some people see it this way - Bobby was a young talent trying to use his music to escape the problems in his hood.

CARMICHAEL: To others, Bobby and GS9 are examples of the music industry profiting off the worst stereotypes of Black men.

MADDEN: But let's look at the bigger picture.

CARMICHAEL: America's always loved an outlaw. And Bobby, man, he's just one rap star whose fame led to infamy. But here's the darker reality. In this country, the people policed the hardest look a lot like Bobby. And they come from communities like the one he came from, places where gangs replace broken families, where teenagers quit school to chase dope-boy dreams, where almost everybody learns not to trust the police.

MADDEN: For a small percentage, rap can be a way out. And the music industry is notorious for buying in.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MADDEN: But artists have to walk a tightrope to transition from the streets to superstardom. Where Bobby Shmurda might land, it's still up in the air, just like his New York Knicks hat. For now, he's stuck in a prison cell in upstate New York, not sure if his career is over or just on pause.

BOBBY SHMURDA: When you get locked up, all the rap shit go out the window. Right now I'm in jail. I'm just trying to get home. I'm thinking about my freedom.

CARMICHAEL: I'm Rodney Carmichael.

MADDEN: I'm Sidney Madden.

CARMICHAEL: And this is LOUDER THAN A RIOT...

MADDEN: ...Where we chase the collision of rhyme and punishment in America. Over the next three episodes, we're going to tell the story of Bobby Shmurda - his rise, his fall and the price he paid for the bonds of brotherhood.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CARMICHAEL: My story with Bobby begins with a phone call.

CARMICHAEL: In 2014, Sha Money XL is at Epic Records working as head of A&R. That's the department responsible for scouting and grooming new talent. And one day out of the blue, another A&R guy hits him up.

SHA MONEY XL: And he was like, yo, Sha, I need you to check your email right now. I just sent you some shit. There's some Jamaican Haitian kids in Brooklyn doing some shit that you need to know about. And I know you know what to do with this. And I put my headphones on. I started watching the video.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOT NIGGA")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Jahlil Beats. Holla at me.

BOBBY SHMURDA: (Rapping) And Truey on some hot nigga. Like I talk to Shyste when I shot niggas.

SHA MONEY XL: And that shit was just - blew me away on sight, yo. Soon as I seen it, I was like, yo, this shit is crazy, yo.

MADDEN: That video Sha was watching, it was just Bobby and his crew. They got together and shot at super low budget. Matter of fact, it was no budget. On the surface, it's just them mobbing on a Brooklyn street corner, having fun. It's super catchy and playful. And unless you really listen closely, you might totally miss the fact that they're rapping about selling crack, repping their set, even taking down their rivals.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOT NIGGA")

BOBBY SHMURDA: (Rapping) Put that gun on him. I'mma (ph) run up, go dumb on him. Niggas got me on that young shit.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, but as menacing as they're trying to be, Bobby's got this baby face that almost makes it hard to believe he's anything close to gangster.

MADDEN: But that's the beauty of hip-hop, right? The dichotomy of repping two things at once, the party music and the personal street diaries. That's what made Bobby and GS9 so alluring.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, but you can't sleep on the dance, now.

MADDEN: You right. The real magic of the video is the dance. It's the Shmoney Dance. Bobby tosses his hat in the air and starts dancing...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOT NIGGA")

BOBBY SHMURDA: (Rapping) And tell my niggas, Shmurda teaming, ho. Mitch caught a body about a week ago, week ago.

MADDEN: Doing this hip-bop knee-jerk back-and-forth for a few seconds, looking like a drunk uncle at the barbecue.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, but what happened to that hat, though.

MADDEN: Yo, the hat. It happens right near the end of the video. Bobby just casually flips the lid of his New York Knicks fitted straight up into the air. It disappears out of the camera frame, and it never falls down.

CARMICHAEL: And at the time, Sha says Bobby's video only had maybe a few thousand views, but he could already sense this buzz building, so his gut told him to act.

SHA MONEY XL: And once I heard it, seen it, seen the dance, seen the energy, I just knew that kid was a star. And I said, I just need to meet him.

CARMICHAEL: But it's not like Sha Money was new to this.

MADDEN: Nah, not at all. Sha's an OG, and he'd seen that type of gritty New York energy before. And you know what? He'd helped nurture it before, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF 50 CENT'S "IN DA CLUB")

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. A decade before Bobby, Sha helped 50 Cent recover after being shot nine times and made him the biggest villain in rap.

MADDEN: But in 2014, New York hip-hop, it wasn't popping off like that.

SHA MONEY XL: New York hip-hop was terrible. It was a bunch of average people trying to do it - nobody outstanding, nobody exceptional.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, man. By the 2010s, the epicenter of rep had definitely shifted to the South. And the birthplace of hip-hop? It was pretty much coasting in last place. But Sha, he wanted to bring that crown back home.

SHA MONEY XL: I'm a New Yorker, born and raised, you know what I mean? My journey started in Brooklyn, going to Queens and kept going from there. So to see the energy coming from my city, seeing Brooklyn, seeing the hood, seeing them, hearing this song, hearing the shit he was talking about. And then all of a sudden, hat goes off, the dance. Oh, this kid is a star, man. He had the rhythm and the whole thing, man, the voice, the performance. It was all there.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. It was all there, especially Bobby's street cred. Now, Sha didn't know exactly what Bobby's crew was into, but at the same time, it's not like he was asking.

CARMICHAEL: I know in hip-hop, the badder, the better. I'm not no human resource department. I'm not a social worker. I don't ask people from the hood if they got criminal activity going on or priors. I don't ask these questions. I just seen what I was doing, and I seen a future that was good for this kid.

CARMICHAEL: So on the one hand, Sha saw Bobby was deep in the streets, and he knew that would sell some records.

MADDEN: But on the other hand, he sincerely wanted to give Bobby a better opportunity than the streets.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah 'cause Sha and Bobby, they had a lot in common. They're both products of the hood. They both got that hustle mentality and they both see music as a way out. When Sha was 17, he dealt drugs for a stint, trying to come up on a drum machine. But he ended up getting busted instead. And later, he met Jam Master Jay, who introduced him to 50 and gave both of them an opportunity to get into the business.

SHA MONEY XL: Music took me out of this shit. And what I did was try to find other people that were talented like me to take them out of this shit. That's what music is for us.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Yo, welcome to my fuckin 9 block, man. Welcome to the hard knocks. Welcome to the block.

MADDEN: This is where Boby's from, East Flatbush. We first visited in the summer of 2018 and grabbed some fried shrimp at a takeout spot co-owned by Bobby's mom. It's called Spunky Fish N Things.

Can we get the shrimp with Spunky fries?

MADDEN: Yeah, Spunkies, baby - best thing in New York.

CARMICHAEL: These fries are Spunky.

MADDEN: There's Soca music blaring from corner stores, the smell of smoke pits outside jerk joints, school kids in uniforms running off the 2 train. This neighborhood has been full of Caribbean immigrants for decades.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, but it's not the easiest place to grow up. On average, the incarceration rate in East Flatbush is 33% higher than the city as a whole.

MADDEN: And nearly 40% of households are led by single mothers.

POLLARD: You know, to think about what single mothers is, when a father is absent, you tend to go extra to give them what they want.

MADDEN: That's Bobby's mom, Leslie. And throughout our conversation, she calls Bobby by the name she gave him - Ackquille. She grew up in the same part of Brooklyn where she raised her boys.

POLLARD: You know, I was young. I made really good money. You know, we traveled a lot. I gave them anything they want. Ackquille doesn't really know that - you know, wrong for me to do it, but he doesn't understand what no means. And that's a lot for him. He's used to getting anything he wants. I'm always catering to them.

MADDEN: Even while she's talking to us, she pauses every few minutes to answer a call.

POLLARD: Ackquille. Hello? Your dad is on the phone.

MADDEN: It's usually her sons or their dad, and she plays operator to connect them all over three-way call. Like any strong matriarch, she's the glue of the family.

POLLARD: Anyways, listen. I got an interview going on. I'm going to put y'all on mute.

CARMICHAEL: Hey, Bobby was just a baby when his father was sentenced to life in prison down in Florida. And by the time we visited the neighborhood, Bobby and his older brother Gervase were both in prison too. That's every male member of his nuclear family serving time.

MADDEN: Leslie says Bobby was a handful growing up. He acted out in school, and that's when he even bothered to go.

POLLARD: I always had to leave work to run down to the school to come get him. It was like every other day, always running around behind Ackquille. Ackquille is something else.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. And right now, Ackquille is somewhere else, as in 300 miles away from his mom and the rest of his friends and family, which makes all those three-way phone calls even more crucial.

BOBBY SHMURDA: They always been supportive of me. No matter what I did, no matter if went to jail, anything, they always supported me.

MADDEN: When we meet Bobby in person for our interview in 2018, it's at Clinton Correctional Facility up in Dannemora, N.Y.

UNIDENTIFIED CORRECTIONAL OFFICER: You guys ready for him?

CARMICHAEL: Yeah.

MADDEN: Yes.

Bobby's only done a handful of interviews since he's been locked up, and most of them have been over the phone. But we sit with Bobby face to face.

What's up? Good morning.

And we talk about growing up in East Flatbush.

BOBBY SHMURDA: Brooklyn (laughter), where it make you hustle. I remember I used to sell waters on the corner at night.

POLLARD: If I would give them $5 a day, Gervase would take his $5 and go buy Chinese food, Ackquille would take his $5 and go to Rite Aid and get a case of water and sell it for 24. That's how he was always a hustler like that, yeah.

MADDEN: That's really smart.

CARMICHAEL: I know, right? But Bobby wasn't satisfied just selling waters. I mean, peep this line from "Hot Boy" (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOT NIGGA")

BOBBY SHMURDA: (Rapping) If you ain't a ho, get up out of my trap house. I been selling crack since like the fifth grade. Really never made no difference what the shit made. Jaja taught me flip them packs and how to maintain.

CARMICHAEL: Now, like we've already said, you can't take everything you hear in rap literally.

MADDEN: Right.

CARMICHAEL: But the thing about that line - I've been selling crack since the fifth grade - is Bobby says it's true.

BOBBY SHMURDA: Where I'm from, it was like an empire, just Crackheads everywhere.

MADDEN: And Bobby wanted a piece of that empire.

What made you want to sell crack out of everything?

BOBBY SHMURDA: Fast money. Like, it was fast money. wasn't evening robbing people. I wasn't even robbing people like that, all that running, sweating and all that other crazy shit. I wasn't into that.

CARMICHAEL: Man, see, this is so important because it really shows you what Bobby felt like his options were limited to growing up in East Flatbush. That fast money? It had a price, though. He remembers the first time he got hemmed up by the police at age 12.

BOBBY SHMURDA: They came in the tiny store and they pulled my pants down all the way to my ankles. They stripped me like halfway butt naked. They found like a piece of crack. They locked me up. Ever since that day, every time they see me, they just run down on me.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. And Bobby, man, he has a lot of early memories like this. He even told us a story about the cops planting a gun on him once.

CARMICHAEL: The same cops that had been locked me up since 11 is like this big African motherfucker, same cop. They rushed the house. They had no warrant. They came in. They find a gun in the couch and a clip in the couch. They took it out, put the clip in, cocked it, said it's going on you. I'm like, me?

MADDEN: They just pointed to you and then said it?

BOBBY SHMURDA: Yeah, but remember, I know these guys.

MADDEN: Yeah.

BOBBY SHMURDA: You know what I mean? So my girlfriend started going crazy at the time, the girl I was talking to. He told everybody, shut up. He let them go through the side door in the precinct. They locked me and my co-defendant up.

MADDEN: Police would later report it happened this way - after neighbors complained, officers knocked on the door. And when it was open, they could clearly see Bobby, quote, "showing a loaded automatic pistol to someone else." Now, we weren't able to verify either versions of this story, but the experiences Bobby said he's had with police overall, they're not unique.

CARMICHAEL: East Flatbush falls under the jurisdiction of the NYPD's 67th Precinct. And that precinct, it has its own track record, as Bobby told us, of not going by the rules.

MADDEN: Yeah, allegations of corruption at the 67th are well documented. Right around the time that Bobby was coming up, the Brooklyn DA looked into at least six different cases that happened between '08 and 2014 where cops are suspected of planting guns at crime scenes and on suspects. These cases typically had a few things in common - the same officers, a lack of forensic evidence and some super-sketchy informants.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, but peep this. In 2016, the Village Voice reported that the DA and the NYPD quietly concluded their investigations. Apparently, there was no misconduct found. And those suspected officers? They remained on the force.

MADDEN: Now, it's clear that once pre-teen Bobby was on the cops' radar, he was likely to stay there.

CARMICHAEL: But while the cops of his neighborhood saw Bobby as a potential menace, man, those folks who knew him best, they saw he had real star potential.

POLLARD: Ackquille has it. He has it. Like, if y'all go to a party, and someone else at the party he feels like could dance, Ackquille would literally dance until he passes out, till they take him out on a stretcher, 'cause he's not going to lose.

MADDEN: The only thing missing was an outlet for that talent. That's where his crew comes in.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah 'cause a lot of raw talent can get buried early in a place like East Flatbush unless you've got the ingenuity to go with it.

MADDEN: After Bobby came home from a stint at juvenile detention at 17, he noticed his crew was getting into something new. They were getting into music.

BOBBY SHMURDA: They was rapping. We used to be on the block. We smoke, get high, start playing around, rapping. And everybody kept telling me like, yo, Bobby, go to the studio. But I'm like, I'm getting money. I don't want to go to a studio. They would abduct me. I'd go with them for a little, end up making a couple songs and I'd leave.

MADDEN: So it's no secret that Bobby sort of owes his success to his crew. If they hadn't dragged him into the studio, he might have never become what he did.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. As Bobby tells us, this new music collective, it needed a name. So the crew called themselves GS9, a nod to their neighborhood set, the G-Stone Crips, and the fact that they came from the 90s blocks of East Flatbush, Brooklyn. Now, street crews and syndicates have always been synonymous with rap. From Eric B. and Rakim's connections to the Paid In Full Posse to Young Jeezy's ties to BMF, I mean, it's a calling card that helps a new street artist establish, you know, a certain kind of street cred.

MADDEN: Yeah. And, you know, on "Hot Boy," Bobby introduces us to the whole GS9.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOT NIGGA")

BOBBY SHMURDA: (Rapping) I'm with Trigger. I'm with Rasha. I'm with A-Rod. Broad daylight and we goin' let them things bark. Tell them niggas free Meeshie, ho. SUBwave, Free Breezy, ho. And tell my niggas Shmurda teaming, ho. Mitch caught a body about a week ago.

CARMICHAEL: I mean, that's basically a GS9 role call, right? We got Rasha, A-Rod, Meeshie.

MADDEN: All the Shmurdas and the Shmoneys.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, the nicknames they created for themselves, the bond. It made them family.

BOBBY SHMURDA: They not my friends. They my brothers, you know what I'm saying? That's - they all I know from kids. Know what I'm saying? We done jumped in front of guns for each other, all types of shit. Like, that's just how we grew up, you know what I'm saying? One of us go, we all going. That's just how it was.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. And jumping in front of guns, I mean, that was just an everyday environmental hazard for Bobby and his homies, especially when beef with other neighborhood crews was so unavoidable.

Don't the 90s have a history of, like, beefing with the 50s and vice versa and all that?

FAME: I mean, we had a history of beef with a lot of people.

CARMICHAEL: That's Bobby's older brother, Gervase, also known as Fame. On our second trip to Brooklyn, Fame was fresh out of prison. He was showing us around the neighborhood along with Rowdy Rebel's younger brother, Fetty Luciano, and about a half-dozen other guys in their crew. We stopped in the middle of the street as the guys started passing around a bottle and, you know.

MADDEN: You know.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, some Styrofoam cups.

What you sipping on?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Henny. Henny.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We sipping on Hennessy.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: You want some Henny?

CARMICHAEL: I'm good, bro.

FAME: Y'all heard it. For Kokane, we pour out Henny. That's what we sip on. That's what we do. That's the ritual right here.

MADDEN: Like Fame said, for Kokane, they pour out Henny. But he's talking about a guy named Tyrief Gary, better known around the way as Shyste Kokane, the former leader of the G-Stone Crips. Some street beefs in New York go back years. For the G-Stone Crips and Brooklyn's Most Wanted, aka BMW, one of the things that beef can be traced back to is Shyste Kokane.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, Shyste - he was murdered in 2011, shot along with three other people during a Labor Day cookout in Brooklyn. But word on the street is, he was hit by a member of BMW. He was just 18 years old when he died.

MADDEN: Bobby, Fetty and Fame were just kids when Shyste got killed. And GS9 didn't really officially exist yet - at least not as a record label.

CARMICHAEL: But that didn't stop them from becoming soldiers in what would become a years-long battle between the G Stone Crips in the 90s blocks and BMW in the 50s. I asked Fame and Fetty about it.

How has the neighborhood changed since...

FAME: What's changed?

CARMICHAEL: How did it change when Shyste died?

FETTY LUCIANO: It changed dramastically (ph). Like...

FAME: He was real young, so that opened up our eyes, you know?

FETTY LUCIANO: So that, like - that put a big dent in the neighborhood. Like, he brung (ph) - he's the person that brought everybody together.

FAME: Especially in this neighborhood, we've got a lot of love for each other. So when we lose one...

FETTY LUCIANO: Especially him.

FAME: ...We didn't really know how to deal with it.

CARMICHAEL: So he was, like, a galvanizing force in terms of everybody.

FAME: Yeah. Yeah. That's a fact. That's captain right there.

FETTY LUCIANO: That was the heart of the 9 right there.

FAME: That's the captain. We ain't never letting his name die out.

FETTY LUCIANO: Never.

FAME: Never.

FETTY LUCIANO: Never.

FAME: People usually lose a friend, and then two or three years later, they forget about them.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, but not GS9. To honor Shyste, Fame says they started...

FAME: Going in a positive way with it, start making music and shit.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, Shyste's death - it's inspired all kinds of musical tributes. Take Rowdy Rebel's song "Shyste Time".

(SOUNDBITE OF ROWDY REBEL'S "SHYSTE TIME")

ROWDY REBEL: (Rapping) They say them boys turned crazy after Shyste died, Shyste died. Look around, bitch, it's Shyste time. It's Shyste time. But Shyste ain't dead. He just went to Vegas with his .45 and a couple Haitians.

CARMICHAEL: And the street beef only got gassed up even more the bigger they became.

So the success that was starting to happen, how did that change y'all's relationship with rivals and stuff like that?

FAME: I mean, it's everywhere. It's just a lot of hate, period - a lot of hate. Like, when people see you make it to the top, they try to drag you back down, crabs in a barrel.

FETTY LUCIANO: You know, we all from the 90s. But it's a part - it's one part of the 9 where we just grimy. Like...

FAME: The grimy side.

FETTY LUCIANO: It's just the grimy side of the - this is the grimy side of this neighborhood. Like, you can't - don't come across this neighborhood and think you going to disrespect and not get no retaliation.

FAME: Especially from the gun squad.

FETTY LUCIANO: (Laughter).

FAME: Especially from the Gun Squad.

FETTY LUCIANO: That's just how we felt, you know what I'm saying? GS9, Gun Squad...

CARMICHAEL: Gun Squad, Grimy Shooters, God's Sons. Yeah, GS9, it stands for a lot of things. But gang - that's the label they say they've been branded with.

UNIDENTIFIED GS9 MEMBER: We don't look - we don't call ourselves no gang members. Like, that's my shmoney. That's my shmurda. That's the brody. That's my hop. Like, we a family, you know what I mean? Like, we GS9. We a family. We a motive.

CARMICHAEL: So when you all were repping GS9 early on, say, like, in the video, like, publicly, were y'all repping it in terms of the neighborhood and the gang? Or was it more so trying to - were y'all trying to use GS9 as a way to legitimize through the music?

FAME: We was doing it as both 'cause GS9 is a record label. We have GS9 Records. That's Bobby. But we was using it as both 'cause that's us. Like, that's where we from. Anybody that know us, they know us as GS9.

CARMICHAEL: For GS9, it was only natural that what was happening in their hood would bleed through in the music.

MADDEN: Songs like "Hot Boy" did double duty - a party-starter and a warning shot, putting opps on notice. So they shoot a video for "Hot Boy" for $300, and they throw it up on YouTube in March 2014. It started catching on. And within a few months, it goes viral. The Internet ate it up, especially the part where Bobby throws his New York Knicks fitted up in the air and it never comes down.

FETTI FILMS: The hat went to outer space, honestly (laughter).

MADDEN: That's Fetti Films, director of the "Hot Boy" video, telling us about the moment that launched Bobby's online fame.

FETTI FILMS: It was weird 'cause when I was editing it, I realized that the hat disappeared. I said, it didn't look right. But then I was like - you know what? - it look weird. I don't know. I'm just going to keep it. And then people liked it.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, man, that disappearing hat became a thing a legend, memed all over the Web.

MADDEN: Pretty soon, Bobby was Internet and hood famous.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BOBBY SHMURDA: One day we was on the block on 95th and Clarkson. And I will never forget this - I was going to make a sale, and I seen a car pull up on me. And it was, like, a bunch of girls around my age. And they started screaming. (Imitating screams). And they was pointing at me. They like, do the dance, do the dance. Then after a while, everywhere I went, people was just going crazy. Like, oh, pictures, this and that, this and that. So I said, I'll probably make some money off of this.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. And Sha Money, who was plotting from his office at Epic Records, he had the exact same idea.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CARMICHAEL: When the "Hot Boy" video was blowing up in the summer of 2014, Sha knew he had to sign Bobby before another label snatched him up. So he sets up a meeting to have Bobby audition for his boss, L.A. Reid, who was the CEO of Epic Records at the time.

SHA MONEY XL: I need to do the whole set up where, you know, you come in, perform for L.A. The whole staff was there. You know, he makes a movie out of it. L.A. - you know, he like it a certain way.

(APPLAUSE)

SHA MONEY XL: So it was all set. The whole staff was there. It was crowded.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MADDEN: This audition scene - it lowkey becomes almost as famous as the "Hot Boy" video itself. It takes place inside a boardroom at Epic's Manhattan headquarters. Now, in reality, it's not that far from the Brooklyn street corners where Bobby started. But when you think about it, it's a world away.

SHA MONEY XL: Bobby comes in, the whole GS9, his Uncle Deebo, all of them. And you see it on the video, man, that boy gave a performance like this is his last chance to do anything in life. And he killed it, man.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BOBBY SHMURDA: (Rapping) You wanna see my Black ass right in front your house?

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, but this video also raised a lot of eyebrows at the time. I mean, here you have a Black man dancing on a table and shooting finger guns in a boardroom filled with mostly white faces, some smiling, some wearing these frozen expressions like they're not really sure how to react.

MADDEN: And if you look real close, Rodney, you can see L.A. Reid sipping from a teacup while Bobby's up there losing his mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BOBBY SHMURDA: (Rapping) But, bitch I'm Bobby with that tool, I got that bop, run up on him, act a fool...

MADDEN: Bobby's energy and charisma - they're on full display. At the end of the video, they gave him a nice, respectful golf clap...

(APPLAUSE)

MADDEN: ...Which, again, shows you how far out of his element he's come.

SHA MONEY XL: From the time he performed until 11:59, his lawyer and Epic's lawyers banged out the deal. And we got it done the same day.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, Sha made sure Bobby didn't leave the building until they hashed out a contract.

MADDEN: Then, it was time to celebrate.

SHA MONEY XL: We celebrate. We smoke more. We champagne more. We even violate the Sony laws and just light up the whole room, man. We make a movie in there, man. We chillin' now. The check is coming. He was a millionaire, baby, 19 years old, baby. Come on, man. What more can you ask for, man?

CARMICHAEL: (Laughter) Sha was hype.

MADDEN: Sha was hype.

CARMICHAEL: Now, the next step - Sha needed Bobby to get to the studio and record some hits.

SHA MONEY XL: So now he's, like, four songs in on his whole life, and I'm making the fifth one with him. So this guy is really, like, a brand new talent that was exceptional on sight.

MADDEN: The next few months are critical for Bobby. Newly signed, booked and busy, he sees the opportunity, not just for himself, but for the whole GS9, to make a shift from the streets to the industry.

BOBBY SHMURDA: After I see money coming in, I said, we can capitalize off this. We can also get out the hood. We don't got to be worrying about dirty ass cops in the hood doing shit to us, you know what I mean? I just tried to get everybody out as fast as I could.

MADDEN: After signing in July, Bobby was everywhere.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOT BOY (REMIX)")

FABOLOUS: Shmurda, what up, son?

MADDEN: In September, the official "Hot Boy" remix dropped with features from Jadakiss, Fabolous, Chris Brown and Busta Rhymes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOT BOY (REMIX)")

FABOLOUS: (Rapping) I Bobby Shmurdered that when she came 'round, threw the hat up in the air, it never came down, and I just caught that body like a week ago.

MADDEN: Now, Rodney, you know hip-hop is competitive as hell.

CARMICHAEL: No doubt.

MADDEN: But at this moment, it felt like everybody was kind of taking Bobby under their wings. And that's something you don't see too often now.

SHA MONEY XL: Now he's just in the life, right? So it was just moving. So he has a calendar now. If he's not in New York recording, he's on the road. If he's not on the road, he's doing something that's just for his career. He wasn't sitting still.

MADDEN: He was on "Jimmy Fallon".

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIMMY FALLON: Please welcome Bobby Shmurda.

MADDEN: The BET Awards - Drake even brought him out on stage.

DRAKE: One more time for Bobby Shmurda in this motherfucker.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHEERING)

BOBBY SHMURDA: I was everywhere - LA, Texas, Vegas, New Orleans, Miami, Atlanta, everywhere.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Turn up, Bobby. Turn up, Bobby. Turn up, Bobby.

MADDEN: The key to cementing a hit is really keeping up the momentum.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Turn up, Bobby.

MADDEN: And for Bobby, it seemed unstoppable.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. It looked like Bobby was starting to put some distance between himself in the streets, too. But at the same time, he was bringing the streets with him. His entourage was his crew, and his crew was his security. In other words, his homeboys were strapped.

SHA MONEY XL: So now while things are starting to heat up, if he's at "Jimmy Fallon", he's walking in and he's seeing a police that he sees in Brooklyn from his neighborhood where he is in New York. And he's looking at him. And they're like, oh, that's the police from the hood, but not puttin', like, yo, them niggas is watching y'all.

CARMICHAEL: So the cops who knew Bobby from New York - they're following this cat out of state, on tour, everywhere. Now Sha - he really respected Bobby's loyalty to GS9.

SHA MONEY XL: He was really trying to form a business for himself and his crew and let his crew get in, as well. And he provided that opportunity. And I just seen a young kid that had his head on right.

CARMICHAEL: But as time went on, he saw that GS9 was attracting way too much attention from the police. So he thought a change of scenery might help Bobby focus.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHA MONEY XL: And I was on him like, yo, we're going to record in LA. It's life, space, car. Pull up, smoke, chill.

MADDEN: It all sounded good, but it didn't work.

SHA MONEY XL: He wasn't on it like I was on it. He came. And it was so hard even when he was there to get him in the studio. So it was just like, yo, bro, leave the fucking house. Let's go. It just didn't work. But when we got back to New York, he worked. So I had to - shoo, I'm back in New York, working. That was the routine.

MADDEN: Bobby admits, at the time, he didn't get it.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. And this wasn't the first time the people around Bobby had really tried to keep him on track. About a week before Bobby signed to Epic, his uncle, who goes by Debo, he called a meeting in east Flatbush. Now, this is behind the same studio where they recorded. He wanted to convince GS9 that if they really wanted to help Bobby, they needed to back off because the heat they were drawing, it was going to kill his career before it even got started. Now, he really tried to come in and, like, Debo the situation, you know, like be the enforcer.

MADDEN: Yeah. But that didn't really work out how he planned. Bobby didn't want to be babied.

BOBBY SHMURDA: I had a listening problem when I was young. Now, I'll listen to what I want to listen to, not to mommy and uncle telling me this and that. I'd be like - I'll - if you told me the stove was hot, I'd want to find out for myself how hot it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MADDEN: There was even somebody who Bobby looked up to and who knew about his reputation who tried to give him game about making that switch from the block to the business.

MAINO: One day, I saw Bobby at Hot 97. And he said, Maino, you don't even remember where you know me from.

MADDEN: Bobby grew up on Maino's sound from watching those "Smack DVDs" that launched Maino's career. So when he saw him at Hot 97, it felt like a full-circle moment for the both of them.

MAINO: And I said, oh, my God. And I remembered. I used to pull up to a block in Flatbush. And it would always be, like, these young kids on the block. And they'd be like, yo, what up, Maino? And I would stop and talk to them. And that was Bobby Shmurda. I couldn't believe it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MADDEN: Now, Maino and Bobby have a lot in common - Brooklyn, born and raised, major run-ins with the law. But Maino, he's been there, done that. And he wanted to help Bobby avoid the same drama.

MAINO: He was in the street longer than he was famous, so I understand. I get it. I understand. It is what it is. I tried to give him as much advice as I could, you know, about the journey, because music is supposed to be a way out for us.

MADDEN: Even if New York was a bad element in some ways, it was Bobby's element. His neighborhood is what inspired his music. And his music is what attracted the industry to him in the first place, you know?

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. But it was all about to come to a head.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MADDEN: On the night of December 16, 2014...

CARMICHAEL: Where we began this story.

MADDEN: ...Sha flies in from LA for an Epic Records Christmas party. And he decided to surprise Bobby at Quad Studios. They're working on songs for Bobby's debut album.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Sipping right, living life.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. And everybody in the studio was in full celebration mode. Spirits are lifted. Blunts are lit. Bottles are flowing. Now, remember, Sha had a plan for Bobby - brand his outlaw image and connection to the streets.

MADDEN: But he also wanted to lift him out of the hood, set him on the right path.

CARMICHAEL: Now, he's already nailed the first part because Bobby's selling records. But as for him being on the right path, Sha wasn't so sure. So he kept trying to stress how careful Bobby needed to be. He wanted him to keep his hands clean of any illegal activity.

SHA MONEY XL: I'm going through this with you. And I'm trying to help you. So I'm going to tell you some shit you don't want to hear. But it's for your better in the long run.

MADDEN: And as it gets later, Bobby's ready to leave the studio. Sha walks Bobby down to his car. It's a rare chance for them to be alone.

CARMICHAEL: On the elevator ride down, Sha's trying to explain to Bobby that being in New York, it really isn't the best thing for him right now. And it's not just Sha who thinks that.

SHA MONEY XL: The elevator open, it's Busta Rhymes. And in that little, short moment, he said one thing to me and Bobby. And it was right in sync with what I was telling Bobby, to just chill out, right? Just - you need to - this is too much right now.

MADDEN: That's crazy, right?

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. Even Busta Rhymes knows about Bobby and GS9's reputation. It just shows how much the streets were talking.

MADDEN: And the industry, too.

CARMICHAEL: Sha walks Bobby to the front door.

SHA MONEY XL: I said, yo, peace out, bro. Be safe.

CARMICHAEL: Bobby gets in the car and heads out. Sha heads back up to the studio. But he has no idea what's about to happen. Next thing you know, NYPD is swarming the building.

SHA MONEY XL: What the fuck is going on, yo? What the fuck is going on? Now the buzzer's buzzing. Studio's like, yo, it's the police trying to get up here. Don't let them up. Don't let them up. So now everybody's panicking. Fire department come. They got to the key. (Imitating lock unlocking). While we're looking at the camera, you hear the fucking elevator door open. Bing. It's a cop, a detective with a gun fully drawn, pointed literally 3 feet from my head. Then he tells me, get on the ground and put my feet and my hands in the air. Yo, I don't even know how to do that. You got niggas hiding behind fucking consoles, hiding in the ceiling. Everybody was scared. People was thinking about their parole, just if they get arrested, they are going to get violated.

CARMICHAEL: The police spent all night searching the studio.

MADDEN: And they finally find the last guy around 7:00 a.m.

CARMICHAEL: And police also find multiple weapons in the studio. And at a certain point, they make another discovery. They've got the Sha Money XL of Epic Records handcuffed on the floor.

SHA MONEY XL: This guy says, so you're the guy that signed Bobby Shmurda? I said, yeah, why? What's up? He has a MCM bag. He puts it on a pool table. What if I make all of these guns yours so you can go to jail and not have to sign no more of these motherfuckers? Because you signing them, and you're letting them buy these guns. And they're going back in their neighborhoods and they're shooting people. So you're the problem.

CARMICHAEL: Now, this is a big realization for Sha. I mean, the whole time he's been trying to steer Bobby in the right direction. And the cops saw him as part of the problem, too. It's like they were blaming Sha and really the whole industry for every trigger GS9 might have pulled.

MADDEN: Yeah. I mean, people have accused the music industry of glorifying gangs and violence before. But here's a cop literally telling Sha that the money he put into GS9 was used to hurt people.

SHA MONEY XL: Now he's like, we already got Bobby. And they had such and such amount of weapons in that car. So now we got this many right here. We're going to find more. So just get ready to say goodbye to your investment.

CARMICHAEL: Bobby Shmurda, Epic's million-dollar investment behind bars.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: Bobby, what do you have to say to your fans? Bobby, anything?

CARMICHAEL: As the sun comes up, the cops, they let Sha go. But they got who they came for - almost everybody else from GS9.

SHA MONEY XL: They did it in a way where no one was getting away. And they knew that this - they were coming for not just Bobby, they wanted the whole crew. And they got the whole crew.

MADDEN: Leslie was at home when she got a call that Bobby had been pulled over after leaving the studio and had been arrested. She jumped out of bed, and she went to go meet her sons at the precinct. She waited hours for police to tell her anything. And through all that confusion, she finally found Gervase.

POLLARD: I looked at Gervase. I'm like, what's going on? He had his head down. He just, like, didn't want to answer me. So he was like, indictment. I'm like, oh, God. I can't even describe to you the feeling I had when they said that.

MADDEN: The NYPD calls a press conference just hours after the raid. Police Commissioner Bill Bratton takes the podium next to a table full of guns they confiscated from GS9.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

BRATTON: These gang members have shown no respect for the lives of citizens in the Brooklyn neighborhoods where they wreak havoc. But working together with the special narcotics prosecutor, we put an end to that. They shouldn't be celebrated. And the fact that their music is celebrated and the so-called dance that they created, I would hope that those that emulate it understand what the source of it is - mindless thugs who have no conception of value of life, no conception of morals.

MADDEN: The NYPD had arrested 15 members of GS9, including Bobby, his brother, Fame, Rowdy Rebel and Fetty Luciano. Some of the crimes they were charged with happened after Bobby was signed to Epic. Prosecutors claim GS9 and the gang G-Stone Crips - they were one and the same. There was no distinction.

MADDEN: And the cops used a controversial tactic to take down GS9, one that was designed to be used against mafia and white-collar criminals. They charged everyone with conspiracy, which makes every member complicit in the worst crimes, including murder. Now, remember when Bobby talked about GS9 as family and said, when one of us goes down, we all go? Well, the police used that same loyalty to build the case against him.

MADDEN: While most of the members of GS9 had bail set around $500,000 or less, Bobby was looking at a bail amount of $2 million. Clearly, this meant prosecutors saw Bobby as the big fish in the case. Sha knew it was critical to get Bobby out on bail.

SHA MONEY XL: I work for a label. They just invested in him. I'm thinking that, if anything, they'll be able to recoup something. And they have policies. It's a corporation. I don't know this shit. I'm used to 50 and G-Unit and us going and bailing them out. I'm not in that position right now. It's not my artist. I just signed him. I just work here. His bail is five times my salary, right? So what am I going to do?

CARMICHAEL: And when Sha says there really wasn't much he could do, he's right. Sha ran G-Unit Records with 50 Cent. But in Bobby's case, Sha just signed him to Epic. He didn't own the keys to the bank.

SHA MONEY XL: No one got through. That's what the public don't know. My guys tried it a certain way. It didn't go through. Other people tried a certain way. It didn't go through. So my - in my eyes, they weren't allowing him to get bail.

CARMICHAEL: And the reason bail was so important is because it's hard to mount a defense when you're behind bars. Plus, it increases the pressure to just plead guilty instead of waiting for a trial.

Did you feel like, to some extent, Epic let Bobby down?

SHA MONEY XL: Absolutely. Absolutely. The way they kind of just silenced me, the way they silenced everything, it just didn't feel right. It didn't feel right.

MADDEN: Fans thought that Epic should have bailed Bobby out, too. I remember I was at a concert in New York around this time. And 50 Cent, he hopped on stage to call out Sha Money by name for not bailing out GS9. And he did it while his DJ was firing shots in the background - not literally, but you'll hear what I mean.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

50 CENT: I ain't like Sha Money. Sha Money got - Bobby Shmurda's still in the joint.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)

50 CENT: They left the niggas in the jailhouse, the whole GS9.

CARMICHAEL: But it wasn't just 50 Cent. I mean, this whole time, Sha was blaming himself too, right? 'Cause he felt like he wasn't able to save Bobby. And this was a big blow for Sha because, remember, this was his way to pull cats out of the streets. And now he sees Bobby behind bars on his watch. He felt helpless.

SHA MONEY XL: I don't know what was going on with me. Some people called it depression, but I'm from the hood, so I just started smoking extra blunts, man. I was fucking pissed, man.

MADDEN: It was a catch-22. It was Bobby's authenticity and loyalty to his crew that made Sha sign him in the first place. But now that his loyalty got him caught up in the law, the label that was so ready to capitalize off his street cred didn't have his back.

SHA MONEY XL: You brought me there to make it hot. Here I am making it hot. And we can't take the temperature because it's too hot.

CARMICHAEL: Too hot. And Sha's boss, L.A. Reid, he gave a rare statement about Bobby on the podcast "Rap Radar" back in 2015.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "RAP RADAR")

L A REID: When I heard him, I believed him. That's what sold me. It felt soulful. It didn't feel like someone was play-acting. And it felt really believable. And I guess it was.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. He said it was a business decision not to bail Bobby out. He admitted it just didn't make financial sense for the label.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "RAP RADAR")

REID: Bobby Shmurda is not the same as Snoop Dogg and "Murder Was The Case," who was coming off "The Chronic" and his first album. This is a different era. And we're a publicly held corporation. We just aren't in the same position we were in back in those days.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. But Sha Money, man, this wasn't just a business transaction. He felt responsible for Bobby. And Sha ended up paying a heavy price, too, one that forever changed how he views the industry.

SHA MONEY XL: I got let go in April, so I ain't have a job. So it was like, all right. But I don't want a job no more. What I'm going to do, sign another artist to a label and tell them we got you when we don't? I don't want to do this no more. So that became the thing. I don't want to sign artists to labels because the label ain't even got my back, how the fuck I'm going to tell artists I got your back?

MADDEN: We reached out to Epic Records for comment on Sha's firing, but they declined. Shaw says he hasn't heard from L.A. Reid since. He doesn't blame him, but he's never worked directly for a major label since either. After all that went down, Sha went back on his independent grind.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. And as for Sha and Bobby, they were keeping contact. But there was just no way Sha could protect Bobby from what Bobby was about to go through.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CARMICHAEL: In our next episode, we dig into the crimes of GS9 and look at how they affected one family in particular. And we consider the reasons why trauma doesn't care about labels like victim and perpetrator.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: He's making other people think that this is OK, that you can kill someone, then turn around, put it in a song and blow up off of that. So, yeah, it's not a party song for me. It's a reminder of what they did.

CARMICHAEL: This episode was written by me, Sidney Madden, Dustin DeSoto, Adelina Lancianese and Michael May.

MADDEN: Michael May also edited this one with help from Chiquita Paschal. It was produced by Dustin DeSoto and Adelina Lancianese with help from Matt Ozug and Sam Leeds. Josh Newell is our engineer.

CARMICHAEL: Senior supervising producers are Rachel Neel and N'Jeri Eaton.

MADDEN: And shoutout to the big wigs - Steve Nelson, Lauren Onkey and Anya Grundmann.

CARMICHAEL: Original music by Kassa Overall.

MADDEN: Our digital editor is Jacob Ganz. Our fact-checkers are Will Chase and Nicolette Khan.

Hit us up on Twitter. We're @louderthanariot. Rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. And to follow along with the music you heard in this episode, check out the LOUDER THAN A RIOT playlists on Apple Music and Spotify now. We'll update those each week for you. And if you want to email us, it's louder@npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CARMICHAEL: From NPR Music, this has been LOUDER THAN A RIOT.

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