"That nigga look like Moose," a man with a Black & Mild cigar hanging out of his mouth and a skully on his head said on the phone, walking by the Stitch and Press embroidery shop in Baltimore's Eastpoint Mall. A rough five seconds passed, and he crept backwards. He entered the store and uttered in pure amazement into the phone, "That is Moose. I know my nigga when I see him!"
Moose was already occupied, subtly letting his gold fronts shine through a half-cracked grin as he took pictures with fans lined up at the store. He gave the man a nod of acknowledgement, which seemed to be more than enough to satisfy the gawker and send him on his way.
Mall appearances aren't too uncommon for well-known Baltimore rappers like Young Moose, a bona fide local celebrity who can barely walk the city's streets without similar reactions. In Baltimore, artists with buzz tend to drop their mixtapes in physical form in partnership with apparel stores or popular music booths a few weeks before they're uploaded to the internet. But that wouldn't explain why Moose was in Stitch and Press snapping photos with fans. Despite his role as one of the most revered street storytellers in the city, Moose was required to work behind the store's counter as an extension of his halfway house program, where he ended up after the eight months jail time he served for a misdemeanor gun charge last year.
Moose should be reaping the rewards that come with his position as a trailblazer for the modern wave of Baltimore street rap. But he has been repeatedly held back by legal trouble, much of which can be traced straight to one Baltimore police officer who residents compare to Denzel Washington's dirty cop in Training Day and who is currently under federal indictment for corruption.
Moose's tumultuous history with the BPD is the reason I found myself at Eastpoint, meeting him at work. He sat at the store's front desk, wearing a hoodie, his hands clasped together. Behind him was an off-white display wall decorated with the essentials: colorful beanies, a knockoff Baby Phat tee, Baltimore Ravens gear, and more. His two friends, Dip and Twin, were in the store as well, keeping him company.
"So you gon' go get my daughter or what?" Moose said to Twin, who didn't look too happy to go run errands. Moose let the store owner know that he was about to do an interview, and we all slipped out—a much easier process than I thought it'd be, given the circumstances. We walked through the relatively empty mall for a bit and reminisced on its older, brighter days, considering its significance for kids who grew up on the East Side of Baltimore as one of the only malls on our side of town. But considering how much time Moose had been spending there, looking to the past didn't seem to be of much interest. After all, Moose was already one of the most significant musical artists in Baltimore's history, and now he was working in customer service, waiting on his fans instead of playing to them.
"I'm really sitting behind the desk. I ain't really doing nothing," he shrugged when I asked how that felt. "I'm sitting behind the desk like Obama." His poise in the situation is admirable and a bit perplexing. Being reduced to a store clerk could justifiably shake the foundation of someone who has grown accustomed to superstar treatment, but there was no detectable sign of defeat in his voice or mannerisms. Finishing the longest bid he's ever served before and realizing what's now at stake could have something to do with that.
The first time I spoke with Young Moose, born Kevron Evans, he barely had anything to say. We met up at the store he and his family own, O.T.M. (which represents his tagline and crew, Out The Mud), on East Monument Street. It was late 2014, not long after he'd finished a three-month stint in jail for being tied to a police raid at his family's home. When he greeted me at the door, he looked around to see if anyone was watching and welcomed me in. He was tall, lanky, dressed in black, and extremely reserved. Hood over his head, he stood with his hands in his sweater pockets and anxiously rocked back and forth for the duration of our conversation. Looking back, he was understandably uncomfortable and standoffish. It was his first post-prison interview, and by the way he surveyed the scene before letting me in, he must have felt like he was being watched.
It had been less than a year after he exploded on the Baltimore scene with his O.T.M. mixtapes, and people had gravitated toward him for his street authenticity, the same way they would with 21 Savage a year or so later. But unlike in 21's music, Moose's lyrics on those projects came off like unrefined, acutely detailed poetry. He appeared uninterested in conforming to convention while still maintaining the core values the genre was built on: giving a needed voice to those who were typically ignored and omitted. He rapped about dealing drugs and killing people but also talked about the pain of losing a newborn son and his love for family. The conviction in his music left you with very little reason to not take what he said seriously.
That hard exterior checked out when we met, but Moose was far from cold. In early videos, beyond the pistol waving and action-packed caper stories, it was evident that he received the adulation and respect of his part of town not out of fear but out of pride. Some clips show him sitting on the curb, talking to kids and autographing whatever they brought his way. Others show him bringing the whole DDH (his native East Baltimore "Down Da Hill" neighborhood) out for a video shoot. "Dumb Dumb"—his local mega hit of 2014—celebrated his own recklessness and almost single-handedly helped project a new musical identity other than club music for Baltimore to neighboring cities.
When he and the breakout West Side rapper Lor Scoota burst onto the scene in 2014, Baltimore had never experienced a localized rap culture that had the potential to spread and stand on its own before. Within a short period of time, both sides of Baltimore had their own movement pushing the city's unique accent, slang, and dances: Scoota's appearance and fixation with designer clothing reflected the reputation of West Baltimoreans being fresh and flashy. Everything about Moose reflected Eastsiders' reputation for being gritty, unmoved by fashion trends.
Moose's musical delivery embodies the qualities that many attribute to Baltimore's appeal: unorthodox, eccentric, and raw. From a technical sense, his music leaves much to desire; his near-hollering rap voice is hard to endure for a full project, and he often delivers bars that barely differ from those of his best known verses. Some of his most popular tracks ("O.T.M.," "It's In Me," "Juicy") aren't even recorded on original production, hindering his commercial potential. Yet, if anything, these qualities strengthen his appeal to his fans, who regularly respond to non-locals trashing his music on YouTube with variations of the comment, "You not from Baltimore. You wouldn't understand."
Below the surface-level oddities, vivid storytelling links Moose to his supporters. On 2014's "I Ain't Mad At U," he shared the story of his grandmother being killed by drug addicts burglarizing her home. The event inspired a 14-year-old Moose to start rapping. On the same O.T.M. 2 tape, he goes over Fabolous's "Breathe" to talk about losing his firstborn child before leaving the hospital. He regularly eulogizes close friends who have been murdered, recounting some of their best times together. These layers underneath the exterior—and his willingness to reveal them—is what makes Moose a hero in the eyes of so many.
Young black people in the city, like in the bulk of urban America, have a perilous relationship with police. A year-long investigation of the Baltimore Police Department by the US Department of Justice following Freddie Gray's death at the hands of police concluded that the city's officers engaged in unconstitutional practices, leading to disproportionate rates of stops, searches, and arrests of black residents. These practices included police making 44 percent of their stops in two predominantly black neighborhoods, which make up only 11 percent of the city's population. Black residents accounted for 95 percent of the 410 individuals police stopped over ten times from 2010 to 2016. Teenagers were used as early scapegoats in Baltimore's 2015 uprising, when Gray's death sparked widespread protests. Rumors of a teen-led revolt were used as justification to end bus services taking students from all corners of West Baltimore home after school. Effectively trapped and cornered by officers in riot gear, middle and high school students were forced to defend themselves. Young Moose's music became the soundtrack to this moment, as much of it, at its most heartfelt, takes on this constant cornering.
"They locked me up when I was 12, all my weed they found it / Plugged in with hella drugs, 'cause I was raised around it," is how Moose recalls his earliest encounter with police on "Fuck The Police" from his O.T.M. 2 mixtape. It's a theme that returns again and again in his music, and has ultimately proved to have real-world consequences. "Fuck The Police" eventually reached the Baltimore Police Department's Eastern District, and according to Moose's father, it especially fueled the person it was intended for, Detective Daniel T. Hersl, an 18-year veteran of the force.
When Faulkner regained consciousness, he was at Mercy Medical Center, where it was determined he had suffered a "busted lip and a broken jaw." He sued Hersl and the BPD, settling for $49,000 in 2014.
On the summery evening of September 2, 2010, a man named Charles Faulkner was standing on the corner of North Avenue and Wolfe Street in East Baltimore when he noticed a figure, Detective Hersl, approaching him. According to court documents, Faulkner, who would eventually receive probation for possessing narcotics, ran and hid on a nearby porch in an attempt to avoid arrest. Hersl allegedly caught up to him, though, and began beating him in the face with his walkie talkie and fists. After the assault, he cuffed Faulkner and threw him in the back of an unmarked police car. When Faulkner regained consciousness, he was at Mercy Medical Center, where it was determined he had suffered a "busted lip and a broken jaw." He sued Hersl and the BPD, settling for $49,000 in 2014.
To people who grew up or lived on the East Side of Baltimore, there's a chance this story sounds familiar. Hersl, 47, has been with the BPD since 1999, and he has cultivated a reputation on the streets as a physically abusive, crooked cop. Tall and solidly built, like a former football player, he has the endurance to match his younger plainclothes officer colleagues, or "knockers" as they're called in Baltimore. In 2013, Hersl's brother Matthew was killed after being run over by a man fleeing the police. According to Hersl's brother Jerome, the incident gave the officer a new tenacity as he pledged to make "a better effort to clean the city up of drugs."
An October 2014 report by The Baltimore Sun's Mark Puente pointed out that Hersl's misconduct had cost the city $200,000 in brutality settlements, including the aforementioned incident with Charles Faulkner and another in 2007 outside Joy Garden Carry Out Restaurant. Then-19-year-old Taray Jefferson and three friends were trying to leave the restaurant, but Hersl, who was pursuing another suspect, would not allow it. His sergeant ordered him to make Taray and her friends to stand against the restaurant's wall. He cuffed her, and, as he and his sergeant allegedly pulled Jefferson's arms in opposite directions, her left arm popped and she fell to the floor. After sustaining a broken arm, she was charged with resisting arrest, failure to obey and disorderly conduct. The charges were eventually dropped, and she won $50,000 in a 2008 lawsuit.
Earlier this year, Hersl's dirty deeds were broadcast to a national audience. On March 1, he and six other officers serving on the high-profile gun unit were indicted on federal racketeering charges. The officers were accused of robbing citizens, making fraudulent overtime claims, and filing false court paperwork. The indictment makes multiple explicit mentions of Hersl and others taking drugs and cash from citizens without reporting it. As a result of the case, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis has since ended plainclothes policing in the city. The Drug Enforcement Administration investigated the officers for nearly a year, meaning that their alleged illegal activity was taking place during the Department of Justice's aforementioned investigation of the police force. Multiple requests for comments from the Baltimore City Police Department on the indictment have not been answered.
Young Moose's first encounter with Hersl came in 2012 when he was just 19 years old. Hersl arrested him for possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute. Moose's father, Kevin Evans Sr. a.k.a. Big Kev, claims that Hersl took the arrest an extra mile by unnecessarily roughing his son up and taking his money.
"It started when Hersl locked him up and took his money," Big Kev recalled over the phone. "Hersl is used to doing that to people where it's no response. Once it happens, I'm supposed to just go about my business and don't say nothing about it. But Moose was young at the time and arrogant. He came home and responded." That response was "Fuck The Police," which motivated Hersl to make Moose a permanent target. It's proven to be one of the worst decisions of Moose's young life and career.
"Hersl is used to doing that to people where it's no response. Once it happens, I'm supposed to just go about my business and don't say nothing about it. But Moose was young at the time and arrogant. He came home and responded."
A sea of white from people's polo shirts, sundresses, and tees flooded the streets of downtown Baltimore the night of August 16, 2014. It seemed as if every young person from the East and West Sides made the trek down to the Baltimore Arena to see Lil Boosie (now Boosie Badazz), the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, rapper who is particularly beloved in the city. Emotions were running high. Breakout local artist Lor Scoota performed his hit "Bird Flu"; Master P made an unexpected but appreciated appearance; Boosie performed some of the best music from his catalog—songs like "Distant Lover," "Smoking On Purple," and Foxx's "Wipe Me Down." It was exactly a week after teenager Mike Brown had been shot and killed by Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson. Ferguson had erupted in protests and unrest. Boosie—one of the closest things street rap has to an activist due to his career-long fight against corrupt police in his home state of Louisiana and nationwide—stopped the show, looked out into the crowd and acknowledged the tragedy of Brown's death. The audience was near silent when he yelled "I know y'all been watching the news, right?!" He immediately followed by performing his and Webbie's 2009 track "Fuck The Police," boosting the venue's energy to its highest point.
Collectively, we screamed the hook: "Cities, FUCK 'EM! Narcotics, FUCK 'EM! Feds, FUCK 'EM! DA's, FUCK 'EM!" The song's message pertained to a number of realities in that venue: Mike Brown's killer was a police officer who, instead of being jailed, received over $500,000 in financial support from sympathizers. Boosie had recently completed a sentence of nearly five years in the Louisiana State Penitentiary for charges he believed stemmed from targeting by local police. And scheduled opener Young Moose, who many had dubbed the "Baltimore Boosie" due to his gift for storytelling, was sitting in a jail cell after being arrested four days earlier in connection to a weeks-old raid at his father's home.
Hersl had led that raid. According to Big Kev, the detective had pulled Moose's records and come across the rapper's ID, prompting him to pay a visit to the listed address. When Hersl arrived at the house, only one person was present. "At the time, I was renting the property out," Big Kev told me. "Years before I rented it out, we used to live at that place. Me, Moose, his mother, and my other kids."
Apparently frustrated with his failed bust, Hersl hopped in his car and drove around looking for someone connected to Moose. He hit the jackpot when he stumbled across Big Kev and a friend, both of whom Hersl ordered into his car. He then drove them back to the rental property and cuffed them. Getting wind of the situation, Moose's mom and a friend named Malik Williams visited the scene, only making matters worse for themselves. They were cuffed too.
"We all made bail, but by Malik's record being a little worse than everybody else's, he winded up having to sit over the jail for eight months before his case was thrown out," Big Kev said. A 2014 report from Baltimore's City Paper, states that arrests were made due to suspected heroin and cocaine being found in home's basement. "We were all acquitted of the charge." Eighteen days later, on August 12—four days before the Boosie concert—Hersl obtained a warrant for Moose's arrest, tying him to the alleged operation even though he had not been present for the raid. This type of treatment at the hands of Detective Hersl was standard, Big Kev told me.
"Once Hersl realized Moose's mother and father was in his life, he wanted to handicap him, but the only way he could handicap Moose was to slow us down also," he explained, his voice ringing with certainty. "So he started targeting us too." Big Kev added that he has had to deal with Hersl's harassment on a consistent basis since opening the O.T.M. store, even closing it for three months, before relocating under the pressure. After he found out about the store, Hersl would make brief visits everyday, parking right out front and taking photos to make his presence known, Big Kev said. Each time, he added, Kev would make a call to Internal Affairs to document the officer's presence, with the hope that the record would help in the event Hersl mustered a plan to take the store down. Hersl was undeterred, however, and, one day while Big Kev was out running errands, the detective entered the store without a warrant, and took $8,000 from the store's safe, according to Kev.
"We had a big metal safe," Big Kev recalled. "He busted it open. He took a few shirts and hats to try to make it seem as though our clothing line is tied to a gang. Nothing happened after that." That was the biggest of many financial losses Kev said he's suffered under Hersl. However, Hersl's extortionate behavior has been a routine occurrence. "'You wanna go to jail or you want this money?': That's his favorite line," Kev told me.
Similar incidents are recorded in the United States District Court's 45-page indictment document against Hersl and the other six BPD officers. For example, on August 24, 2016, Hersl—along with fellow indicted officers Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, Momodu Gondo, Jemell Rayam, and Evodio Hendrix—allegedly took part in detaining a man and stealing drugs and $1,700 in cash from him. None of the officers prepared an incident report. Later that same day, Hersl ordered a man off of the street into a police vehicle operated by Gondo and Rayam. The man, a maintenance supervisor at a nursing home, was carrying $1,500 in cash, which he planned to use for a money order to pay his rent. The officers allegedly took the cash after asking the man for his apartment number and whether he had any guns or large sums of cash in the home.
"That nigga white so I'm guessing he ain't liking my skin / They had me sitting for a house raid I wasn't even in / Detective Hersl he a bitch. I swear to God he ain't right / Heard about my rap career, he trying to fuck up my life"
The indictment also alleges that Hersl took $2,000 of the $4,800 a man was keeping in a storage unit and $312 of another man's $530 cash, which he proved with his paystub had been earned from his job as an HVAC engineer. Hersl also nearly doubled his salary with fraudulent overtime worth nearly $67,000, a practice that was mirrored by other officers named in the case. Hersl, the oldest officer under indictment by 11 years, is the only officer who does not appear in any of the phone records submitted as evidence, but other officers were recorded gloating over the details of similar shakedowns to those Hersl performed.
Including when Hersl first arrested Moose in 2012, his name shows up on four separate criminal cases against the rapper, which are all related to distributing narcotics. With his freedom and his family's peace of mind on the line, Moose still continued to fight back against Hersl in his music. On his O.T.M. 3 tape, released after he was granted bail in November 2014, he touched on being Hersl's target: "Tryin' fuck up my career that's some hating ass shit / Daniel T. Hersl you a racist ass bitch," he says on "Fucked Up." On "Tired" he details the July 2014 raid: "That nigga white so I'm guessing he ain't liking my skin / They had me sitting for a house raid I wasn't even in / Detective Hersl he a bitch. I swear to God he ain't right / Heard about my rap career, he trying to fuck up my life / That nigga fucked me over once. He ain't getting another / That racist bitch had the nerve to put the cuffs on my mother / Put the cuffs on my father and put the cuffs on my brother / He think about me everyday. That nigga mind in the gutter." Since that tape dropped in 2015, most of Moose's assertions about Hersl have proven true, but not to his advantage. Many of his career plans have continued to be derailed. Before serving jail time for eight months last year for gun and drug charges, he was on house arrest for close to seven months for allegedly threatening a woman with a gun. When asked about Hersl and his relation to Moose, Hersl's attorney, William B. Purpura Jr. withheld from commenting on the matter.
When Moose's manager filled me in on the rapper's job at Stitch and Press before connecting us, it seemed as if Baltimore City had taken the final step in making an example of the rapper. How could a local celebrity with over 100,000 Instagram followers, who could barely go outside without being bum-rushed, end up manning the counter of a shop where people get "Jesus Loves Me" skullies and customized T-shirts? On paper, it felt like the lowest of the lows. As we stood outside of the store, fans kept approaching in groups, and Moose had to wave them off by telling them he was doing an interview. For what seemed like a stressful day-to-day reality, Moose said after all he's been through lately, he could use all the love he could get from visiting fans. He described the emotional toll of his most recent stint in prison, and explained that he didn't want to let his daughter, Kylie, down again.
"It just make me think before I make any little decision," he said. "She make me think. Long as she on my mind, I know I'ma make the right decision. If I do something wrong it's gonna feel like I let her down and I'ma feel bad. Like less of a man." He's had some key people in his corner throughout the process. Boosie Badazz, who recruited Moose to his Bad Azz Music Syndicate label, was a constant beacon of hope while he was serving time. "He told me that he waiting on me. That was the main thing—he still there. Other type of people who really up there in the game, they don't be having time for people who be going to jail and getting into all types of stuff," he said. "By me dealing with him, he know what it feel like and he know what this life is like; shit happens but you can't give up on a motherfucker. He still with me."
In a perfect world, Moose's communication with Boosie wouldn't be limited to motivational phone conversations. His top priority is to relocate to Atlanta where the two can finally connect on a consistent basis and where Moose could escape the potential pitfalls of returning to prison or worse at home. "I already been down there and I seen the love. I know what I can do," he reminisced. "People was running down on me like I was in Baltimore. It's more people showing you love down there than they do in the city. Everybody want everybody to eat down there." In late February, the city relieved Moose of his job at Stitch and Press, sending him to home to be on house arrest.
In March, he released his first mixtape since 2015, Home Detention. The project was written during his six and a half months on house arrest last year before he served eight months in prison. There's no central theme despite what the project title suggests. Like the rest of his tapes, there's a mixture of lyrical exercises on other artists' production ("My Brother's Keeper," "What They Want," "Sexual Healing") and reminiscent storytelling ("Big Ronald," "Where You Was At").
It feels like the most important project of his career, considering what's at stake. When Scoota was killed last summer while Moose remained in jail, the city once again felt a void. Now, however, thanks to both rappers' rise, there is a model for new artists from the city, and the absence of a reigning figure set the stage for an abundance of young artists. Newcomers like YBS Skola, Deetranada, and Bandhunta Izzy have all gained some sort of national recognition much quicker than their predecessors. Suddenly, Moose has to justify his role at the head of the pack.
"It's a good thing and a bad thing," Moose said of his own influence. "I say it's a good thing because, just to show that we really can put the power in people and let them know that they can make it. But the bad thing is, the people who we showed that you can make it, they ain't paying homage. They ain't letting them know, 'Moose inspired me to really rap.' Everybody selfish." To keep up, Moose has more work ahead of him than ever before. What Hersl's interference truly cost him may be the most valuable asset of all: time.
"I know my son would be a millionaire by now," Big Kev told me, imagining Moose's life if he never crossed paths with Daniel Hersl. "They already knew Boosie was trying to sign him. We had just left from down Atlanta. They used to come to the store and say, 'He ain't making that show. We gonna make sure he don't make that show,' before any time he was supposed to perform."
That game of cat and mouse, though, may ultimately prove to be an important part of Moose's legacy, a reminder that all rap music has the potential to be a political tool. Young Moose is far from a saint. His music features him proudly discussing topics like how to kill someone to make their family hurt the most or getting revenge on drug addicts who cooperate with police by putting rat poison in their fix. Yet being an effective reporter doesn't require a squeaky clean record. If anything, Moose's connection to the city's streets, where residents of the poorest neighborhoods are monitored and surveilled around the clock, gives him more insight on how police operate on a day-to-day basis. His involvement in illegal activity may make it difficult for some people to accept his account, but his declarations about Hersl appear to have been right the whole time. He has put his own freedom and success on the line to discuss those realities, which are just one part of a larger story of police abuse of black Americans.
Moose showed no signs of feeling sorry for himself while we strolled around Eastpoint, though. He scouted for the best spots to take photos, settling on the basement outside of an empty arcade. He sat on an isolated bench with his arms rested over its back. Artificial tropical plants lined the bare hallway. Twin and Dip were posted on the wall, noticeably bored and waiting for us to wrap things up.
"Yeah they definitely doing that. Trying to slow me down," Moose said about his current situation. "They say God send the toughest situations to his strongest soldiers. I just look at it like, a nigga gotta go through something. The more stuff I go through, the more stuff I can write about." An assured "mmhmm" punctuated his statement.
Photography by Shane J. Smith. Follow him on Instagram.
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