An article for the Santa Clara Law Review published in 2010 speaks in depth on the notion that the Hip-Hop community is targeted by the criminal justice system in this country. “Hip-hop music and culture profoundly influence attitudes toward, and perceptions about, criminal justice in the United States. At base, hip-hop lyrics and their cultural accoutrements turn U.S. punishment philosophy on its head, effectively defeating the foundational purposes of crime and punishment.”
One such case where a young hip hop artist seems to be targeted by the system is the case of YNW Melly, a young rapper who has dealt with a series of legal issues in the past. It is difficult to tell whether the criminal justice system targets the hip hop community or the hip hop community paints a target on its back as a result of a clout chasing lifestyle. In truth, the answer is probably a bit of both and is a very deep discussion that needs to happen in political circles in this country. For today, the YNW Melly case is the focus.
Who is YNW Melly?
YNW Melly was born Jamell Maurice Demons to his mother, Jamie Demons, in May of 1999. He is a rapper, singer, and songwriter from Gifford, Florida. Like so many of his hip hop artist peers, Demons’ early life was difficult and undoubtedly shaped so much of the perspective that he pours into his art. His mother was only fourteen when she became pregnant, and he was born while she was only in the ninth grade.
His father was fairly absent, and Demons joined the bloods at a very young age. His legal troubles began early as he was arrested in 2015 for shooting at a group of students outside Vero Beach High School and served several months incarcerated as a result. YNW Melly adopted this stage name in 2016 when he and a few friends (Anthony “Sakchaser” Williams, Christopher “Juvy” Thomas Jr., and Cortlen “Bortlen” Henry) created a hip-hop collective called YNW.
The music he creates falls under the hip-hop, trap, and R&B genres, and he has actually released a couple mixtapes and a studio album. He has several claims to fame including collaborations with Kanye West and Fredo Bang on his second mixtape.
YNW Melly’s Musical Career
Melly’s musical career began like many young rap artists’ careers: he began to upload music to his personal Soundcloud account. During his first period of incarceration for the shooting in 2015, he began to write and to develop his own unique sound. One of his more popular hits from his first release is a song called “Murder On My Mind” where he talks his listeners through what he was going through, how he was feeling, and what went through his mind sitting in a dark cell. It was around this time that he really began to pour his mind into his work and into creating the sound that he really wanted to use to convey his emotions to his fans. So much of his music contrasts his experiences with his emotions, trying to mingle the two in a way that would allow him to reconcile what he was seeing with how it made him feel. So many of his songs create a blend of anger, pain, and love all in one that really capture the essence of his thought process.
His career really began to take off when he released “Murder On My Mind” which came out as a single before being featured on his debut mixtape, I Am You. He collaborated with late artist Juice Wrld on the song “Suicidal” which was released on March 13, 2020 as a posthumous feature. It peaked at number twenty on the Billboard Music Hot 100 List, and it was actually Melly’s second entry into the Hot 100 top twenty.
His discography includes mixtapes I Am You, released in 2018, Melly vs. Melvin in 2019, and We All Shine, also released in 2019. His most recent two mixtapes were self-released and he is not currently signed to a label. Melly vs. Melvin explores the idea that he is dealing with a different side of himself, fighting against something that could expose who he really is and causing lots of damage to those he loves. His vulnerability and openness are refreshing and are something that his audience really relates to.
YNW Melly’s Legal Troubles
Like I wrote earlier, YNW Melly’s problems with the criminal justice system began early, and they have continued since then. From his convictions at the age of 16 to the present, he has been in and out of jail several times, and his arrests in June of 2018 and January of 2019 for possession of marijuana were only the beginning.
Tragedy struck him and his friend group, the YNW Collective, when his friends Anthony “Sakchaser” Williams and Christopher “Juvy” Thomas Jr. were pronounced dead at Memorial Miramar hospital after being involved in a shooting that took place shortly after a group recording session in October of 2018. Shortly thereafter, Melly was arrested along with his friend Cortlen “Bortlen” Henry in connection with the murders. However, Melly is adamant that he and Bortlen had nothing to do with the shootings and that he was still very close with Sakchaser and Juvy. According to the website for the Broward County Detention Center, Jamell Demons is still being held pending trial on charges of premeditated murder.
Throughout the process, Melly has maintained his innocence, as has his mother. He claims that he had nothing to do with the death of his friends, saying, “They took my brothers from me over JEALOUSY i know y’all watching over me…”. According to RapTV, he is doing everything right in order to beat the case. He turned himself in when he heard that police had wrongfully arrested someone with his likeness, there is no murder weapon, and there is no DNA evidence or motive to convict him at all.
As of this time, he is still incarcerated.
Whether the evidence points to his guilt or innocence, YNW Melly is still incarcerated and it does not appear like he will be receiving bond any time soon, unlike his friend Bortlen who received bond in May of 2020. Melly has dealt with rumors of his death and has also contracted COVID-19 while incarcerated, but he is still doing well and believes he will be home soon. Hopefully when he returns home he will be able to get his life on the right track and avoid becoming a statistic of violence or drug use. The last thing the rap community needs right now is to lost another young and rising star who has potential to become a transcendent voice that his fans and others alike can relate to. He could use his position as leverage to really communicate beauty and life experience through his music.