Musicians Who Are Currently Behind Bars

For better or for worse, our culture is fascinated by celebrities who turn criminal. How can someone so talented, so rich, and so famous throw it all away with awful or even evil choices that land them in prison for years?  

Sure, one could adopt the skeptical, cynical attitude that celebrities seem to think that they're above the law because so many arrested stars never serve time, but the truth is, plenty of famous folks do get convicted for their terrible deeds. From rapper Bobby Shmurda to music industry heavy-hitter Phil Spector, here are some musicians from all levels of celebrity who are currently behind bars ... and could be for a very, very long time.

Bobby Beausoleil

It's well-known that the recently not-so-dearly departed cult leader and mass murderer Charles Manson was also a musician. According to Rolling Stone, Manson even wrote a song that The Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson allegedly stole and turned into "Never Learn Not to Love." "The song theft enraged Manson, who threatened Wilson and at one point left a bullet on the drummer's bed," the magazine reported. But we digress.

Manson had some other musicians in "The Family" too, including Bobby Beausoleil, a member of a '60s band called the Grass Roots, which later changed its name to Love. Love recorded Forever Changes, one of the most critically-acclaimed and influential albums of all time, but Beausoleil moved on to bands with poorly-spelled, psychedelic-sounding names such as the Orkustra and the Magick Powerhouse of OZ. 

Then he gave it all up for Manson and murder. According to Rolling Stone, Beausoleil was working as a recruiter for Manson in 1969, when he reportedly acted on an order to fatally stab a Gary Hinman — the music teacher who reportedly introduced Manson to Wilson. It was the first murder connected to the Manson Family, and Beausoleil was sentenced to death. After California abolished the death penalty in 1972, Beausoleil's punishment was changed to life in prison. According to the Los Angeles Times, California Gov. Gavin "reversed a parole recommendation to free" Beausoleil in 2019.

C-Murder

For a hot minute in the late '90s and early 2000s, the rap world was dominated by the No Limit label. Founded by Master P (Percy Miller), the label generated big hits for Master P and for his brothers Silkk the Shocker (Vishonn Miller) and C-Murder (Corey Miller). According to The Times-Picayune, C-Murder attended a rap battle at the Platinum Club in Harvey, La. in 2002. Also at the club: a 16-year-old No Limit fan named Steve Thomas, who used a fake ID to get in. At some point, a brawl broke out. According to MTV News, a jury determined "that Miller shot Thomas once in the chest as the teen lay on his back while being beaten by the rapper's friends." He was sentenced to life behind bars.

This isn't the first time Miller reportedly pulled a gun at a nightclub. In 2001, he allegedly pulled a gun on the bouncer at a club in Baton Rouge, and then allegedly tried to shoot the club's owner, only to have the gun jam, reported MTV News. He was sentenced to 10 years in connection with that case and denied a retrial in 2019. 

Jim Gordon

If you've ever listened to classic rock radio, you've heard the work of Jim Gordon. He was an extremely active session drummer in the '60s and '70s; he played on Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers first album, Harry Nilsson's Nilsson Schmilsson, The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, and Derek and the Dominoes' Layla and Other Assorted Love Song. The latter was an Eric Clapton project that spawned the timeless hit "Layla." Clapton and Gordon reportedly co-wrote the Grammy-winning song about unrequited love. 

Gordon somehow balanced a busy music career with severe mental health issues. According to Billboard, "Beginning in 1978, Gordon sought medical treatment at least 15 times, court records show. But he could not escape his mother's voice, which he claimed had tormented him for years." Then in 1983, as he told police detectives at the time, he "just snapped" — Gordon stabbed his 71-year-old mother to death. He's been incarcerated ever since. Gordon was denied parole in 2018, after his attorney argued that the drummer may "hurt somebody else" if released.

Vybz Kartel

Vybz Kartel helped popularize the amped-up form of reggae known as dancehall. The self-proclaimed "Worl' Boss" (real name: Adidja Palmer) collaborated with Rihanna, Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott, Pitbull, and Major Lazer. His hit "Rampling Shop" was a hit on U.S. radio, even though it was banned from the airwaves in his native Jamaica for obscene lyrics. That's far from the most controversial moment in Kartel's life, because since 2014, he's been serving a life sentence for murder. 

In 2011, police alleged Kartel murdered and mutilated a member of his inner circle, Clive "Lizard" Williams, because he believed Lizard stole a couple of guns from him and other members of his crew, reported The Guardian. After a 65-day trial, reportedly the longest in Jamaican history, Kartel was sentenced to life behind bars, with his first parole eligibility hearing in 2049. Three members of Kartel's crew were also sentenced. 

What's especially horrible, and what helped seal Kartel's fate: Text messages where he reportedly admitted to disposing of Williams' body, which was never located. Among those messages from Kartel to his crew (via The Guardian): "Tween me an u a chop we chop the boy Lizard fine fine. Yeah man a mince meat dat ... As long as u live dem can never find him."

Big Lurch

Lurch, the towering butler in various iterations of The Addams Family, appeared frightening but was actually quite sensitive and gentle. It's the reverse for the 6'7" rapper whose name was inspired by the horror-comedy character. Big Lurch (real name: Antron Singleton) was an aspiring rapper in the '90s and early 2000s with a career on the rise thanks to his work with titans of the genre like E-40, Too $hort, and Mystikal. Along with rappers Doonie Baby and Rick Rock, Big Lurch was a member of Cosmic Slop Shop, which released one album, Da Family, in 1998. 

As a solo act, Big Lurch similarly only ever released one album, 2004's It's All Bad. That hit stores after he was sentenced to life in prison for crimes so horrific, they're almost unbelievable. According to the Los Angeles Times, a court found the rapper guilty of murdering his roommate in 2002. During the act, he reportedly cut open the woman's chest, and removed and ate her lung. Police discovered him walking down a Los Angeles street, naked and covered in blood. Big Lurch's lawyer, Milton Grimes, admitted that his client did commit the murder, but had done so in the midst of a five-day PCP bender. The outlet also reported that Grimes claimed Big Lurch "has a history of mental health problems stemming from drug abuse."

Big Lurch is serving two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole in New Folsom State Prison in California.

YNW Melly

Rapper YNW Melly aka Jamell Demons survived life in a tough Florida neighborhood. His lyrics, which included themes like crime, violence, and teenage street life, reflected it. In 2015, he was charged with "aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and one count of discharging a firearm in public" (via TCPalm) after firing a gun at three students near his high school. While incarcerated, he "woke up and I had that chorus," he told Billboard, for "Murder on My Mind," a top 20triple-platinum hit that originated as a SoundCloud upload in 2017. 

Once out of jail, Melly released lots of music, including a high-profile collaboration with Kanye West. He was on an upward trajectory, and not even 20 years old yet, when he found himself in trouble with the law again in February 2019. The previous October, two of the rapper's friends and fellow YNW crew members, Christopher "Juvy" Thomas Jr. and Anthony "Sakchaser" Williams, were pronounced dead at a hospital in Miramar, Florida, having been dropped off there after being shot to death, per TCPalm. Miramar police later arrested Melly, and another YNW associate, Cortlen "Bortlen" Henry , alleging that they perpetrated the murders — Melly, allegedly the trigger man, and Bortlen, allegedly the driver — then staged a drive-by shooting that they blamed for Thomas and Williams' death. 

Both men pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree murder. As of February 2021, Melly remains incarcerated while awaiting trial. Bortlen was released on bond in May 2020. 

Tay-K

Tay-K's story is the rare one in which a musician's career took off because of an imprisonment, not stymied because of one. According to a Dallas NBC affiliate, in 2016, 16-year-old Taymor McIntyre (that's the real name of Tay-K, or Tay-K 47) allegedly participated in a robbery and home invasion in Mansfield, Texas, which left 21-year-old Ethan Walker dead. McIntyre was placed under house arrest in Tarrant County, Texas, but he cut off his ankle monitor and fled. He was on the run for months, during which time he reportedly got involved with a 2017 murder in San Antonio. According to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the mother of victim Mark Anthony Saldivar, McIntyre stole the man's camera equipment, pushed him out of a car, and tried to get away. Saldivar tried to stop McIntyre and two associates by getting onto the hood of the car, at which point McIntyre allegedly shot him with a handgun and fled the scene. Authorities captured him in New Jersey a few months later, but during his time on the lam, McIntyre kicked off his rap career. His debut single, "The Race" hit #12 on the Billboard rap chart.

U.S. Marshals returned the fledgling rapper to Texas, where he was found guilty of murder in July 2019 for the death of Walker and sentenced to 55 years in prison. While behind bars, McIntyre was indicted on a charge of capital murder over Saldivar — which means the death penalty is a possible sentencing option.