The Rap Game on Trial: Prosecutors Prey on Fictional Rap Lyrics to Convict Urban Rappers
.By Clarence Walker Jr.
....Rap Music on Trial in Courtrooms Across America While "Pop" Music Containing Equal Amounts of Violence and Murder Lyrics Go Unnoticed.
There is a war brewing, all combatants are ensconced in a battle against our criminal justice system. And the courts are feeling the heat. What is this fight about? It is no secret that rap lyrics have been used as evidence by prosecutors in America for almost four decades against Black rappers. When rap artists 'rap' about lyrics in songs related to committing crimes, assaulting people, selling drugs, shooting at enemies, or speaking of doing murder, the words may sound threatening and even anger people, accustomed to old-school music. But those violent lyrics are free artistic expressions protected under U.S. Constitution's First Amendment. Aside from the negativity, the influence of rap has reached worldwide proportions. All over the continent fans crowd into stages to watch rappers perform their magical rhyming words. What is so astounding is how a global phenomenon came from the slums of New York and the heavy voices of Black communities. Rap music is a multi-billion dollar industry. Even the poorest of the poor Black young men and ladies developed talent and learned to rap and became multi-millionaires. What is so disheartening about the music is that the law now uses the lyrics to connect rappers with crimes.
Free Speech: Are Rappers Expressing True-Life Violence They Committed?
Since rap lyrics fall into the artistic expression of free speech under this nation's constitution, why do prosecutors conclude the lyrics in a rap song are evidence of a crime the rapper carried out in real life--or as prosecutors suggest, rappers are expressing the violence they are capable of doing, crimes they already carried out on the streets, crimes the police may not know about. Although rap originated from hip-hop the rap genre is nonetheless a combination of rhymes and poetry set to a musical beat. Rap music is just like other art forms; a means of creative expression that consists of partly autobiographical content mixed with an artist telling creative stories about life experiences and struggles, poverty, and drugs.
Did Kanye West and Rapper Eminen Have Real-life Violence on Their Minds Upon Releasing Lyrics About Death?
When Kanye West recorded the following song in 2018, “I thought about killing you/Premeditated Murder,” or how about, 18 years ago, when Eminem bragged of putting his dead wife in the trunk of a car, those words from both artists weren't intended for the consideration of the truth. "Let's don't forget the classical "pop song” ‘Janie's got a gun---and now everyone is on the run.' Even country music songs contain lyrics of murder and violence. For example, country music legend Johnny Cash whose song went like this, "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die." So this brings us to why the lyrics of Black and Latino artists are used as evidence in criminal trials since artistic expressions which include rap songs are protected under the First Amendment of free speech like millions of other songs in the U.S.
Racially Motivated? Or Do Rap Songs Reveal Crimes Committed in Real-life by Rap Artists?
"I will protect Black art like it's my family because it's my family," said Kevin Liles in an interview with Nightline. Liles is the CEO of 300 Entertainment whose label distributes music by Young Thug and Gunna. Many who are familiar with the genre's popularity and the impact on culture among people worldwide suggest that when prosecutors go after rappers charged with crimes and use their lyrics recorded on songs as evidence that the practice is racist to the bone. "There is no question this is racially motivated," says Professor Eric Nelson. "No other fictional form is targeted in this way in court." Here in America, Nelson explains, there are "hundreds of cases specifically involving the use of rap in courts, and overwhelmingly, those defendants are Black or Latino," Nelson explained to news media outlets. Liles added, in a tense voice, "Our culture is on trial."
California Governor Signs the Nation's First Bill Forbidding Prosecutor's Use of Rap Lyrics During Trial
California Governor Gavin Newsom Signs Nation's First Bill Preventing Rap Lyrics Against Accused Defendants Meanwhile the movement against courts using rap lyrics to enhance the possibility of a conviction is taking off faster than a track star. On October 3, 2022, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB-2799 into law, the unanimous passage of the Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act which is the first bill in the nation to prevent an artist's creative expression, specifically rap lyrics from being used against them by prosecutors. "Artists of all kinds should be able to create without the fear of unfair and prejudicial prosecution," Newsom said in a statement. "For too long, prosecutors in California have used rap lyrics as a convenient way to inject racial bias and confusion into the criminal justice process," said Entertainment Attorney Dina LaPolt in a statement regarding the groundbreaking bill.
New York State Legislature Passed a Similar Bill to Protect Rappers: Jay-Z, Yo Gotti, Killer Mike, and Fat Joe Gave Support
Earlier this year, rap icons and music label owners like Jay-Z partnered with Meek Mill, Big Sean, Fat Joe, Kelly Rowland, Yo Gotti, Killer Mike, and Robin Thicke to push the signage of a New York bill that also restrain prosecutors from using violent lyrics against creative artists in the rap-hip hop business. The "Rap on Trial" bill S7527 passed the Senate but it must still pass the New York State Assembly to become law. Once the bill is passed by the full assembly, Governor Kathy Hochul will sign off on the law. "Rap should not be treated differently from any other art form," stated Senator Jamaal Bailey. "Our lyrics are a creative form of self-expression and entertainment. We want our words to be recognized as art rather than being weaponized to get convictions in court," Fat Joe told Rolling Stone. To add a heavier bite into the controversial practice of rap lyrics used as evidence in court, Kevin Liles, 300 Entertainment owner, including the big heavyweights in the industry, namely the Recording Academy, Recording Industry Association of America, Universal Music Group, Sony Music Group, Warner Records, Atlantic Records, and the Black Music Action Coalition are pushing federal legislation to force prosecutors to limit the use of rap lyrics in a court of law. "I'm proud that the Recording Academy and many of my friends have joined the movement to protect Black Art, '' Liles said.
Rap in Courtrooms: Atlanta Georgia: Rappers Young Thug and Gunna. Could These Two Artists Be Convicted Over Lyrics About Street Life, Crime, and Murder?
Rhyming lyrics in the rap music world represent the bedrock of clout, big money, and fame for prominent rappers like Gunna and Young Thug aka YSL Those same lyrics that the two rappers spit out before "hundreds of thousands" of fans around the nation have somehow come back to haunt them in a big criminalizing way. On May 9, 2022, the two southern stars from down south in Atlanta (true names Jeffrey Lamar Williams and Sergio Kitchens)were among 28 defendants charged with conspiracy and street gang activity under Georgia's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
In an 88-page sweeping indictment, Gunna and Young Thug face a slew of criminal charges of felony drug possession with intent to sell, armed robbery, and murder including numerous incidents related to street gang activities. Georgia prosecutors allege Young Thug's rap label also known as Young Stoner Life is a criminal gang with direct ties to the National Bloods Organization. Under Georgia's state RICO law, prosecutors must prove the men committed at least two specific offenses within ten years that were part of a racketeering scheme. Upon conviction, the RICO charges for the men carry up to 20 years in prison, a monetary fine, or both. Gunna is charged only under RICO. What is particularly alarming about the crimes that YoungThug and Gunna are facing is that prosecutors plan to use the rapper’s music videos and lyrics as evidence of their guilt to convict them. Prosecutorial tactics which hone in on extraneous behavior patterns in criminal trials aren't new in the United States because state and federal prosecutors have habitually used rappers' and hip hop artists' rhymes and lyrics to convict them of crimes which in many cases the punishment carried up to a life sentence.
Young Thug and Gunna Facing Long Prison Terms
Young Thug and Gunna's case are the latest example of rap music finding its artistic expressions under fire in a criminal justice courtroom. Prosecutors insist that it's not about the rap lyrics or videos but that crimes committed by rappers are eerily similar to the rap music they sing about. "It is intensely problematic that the state relies upon song lyrics as part of criminal allegations. Hoping to get their client free on bond, Gunna's lawyer points out in a written motion, how, "These lyrics are an artist's creative expression and not a literal recounting of facts and circumstances," the legal motion stated. "Under the state's theory, any artist with a song referencing violence could find themselves the victim of a RICO indictment, the attorney argued. Remember when Ludacris rapped the lyrics that he's "so illegal with the pen", perhaps we thought he was speaking in general terms to highlight a point about his talented way with captivating words. As it so happened, Ludacris words hit the mark; unbeknownst to him, he was telling the truth and nothing but the truth. Prosecutors in courtrooms across the U.S. began charging professional rappers with crimes they were accused of based on certain lyrics they have sung on their records to "millions of fans." Popular rappers like Young Thug and Gunna fall into the same category as other prominent rappers who had their lyrics used against them in court.
YNW Melly Hit Song "Murder on My Mind" Made Him Famous. Now Melly Facing Murder Charge
Drakeo "the Ruler served three years in prison before he got released and found innocent of murder and attempted murder charges. The court judge erroneously allowed the prosecutor to use lyrics from Drakeo’s 2016 song"Flex Freestyle '' to highlight a rap beef to poison the jury's judgment to convict Drakeo of targeting another artist named RJ. Knowledgeable sources in the rap industry have suggested the lyrics sung by YNW Melly will probably be used as evidence in his upcoming trial for murder. Almost two years ago before Melly was charged with involvement in the shooting death of two associates, Melly's hit " Murder on My Mind" spent 20 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 songs.
Surprise...Surprise...Surprise: "Pop Music" Recorded by White Artists Contain Violent Lyrics About Shootings and Murder Similar to Rap Songs?
Rap music and hip-hop have always suffered the worst criticism of their' lyrics containing violence, guns, drugs, sex, and murder. As "bad reviews" demonizes rap music, "pop music recorded and sung by majority white artists avoid the sting of the critical press and moral citizens although some "pop music" songs have just as much violence as urban rap songs. However, a new study suggests "pop music's"friendly, cool hearted tone masks nefarious lyrics. Researchers at the University of Missouri discovered in 2019 how pop music lyrics periodically consist of violent content similar as rap songs. Since pop music is among the most popular genres among young teens and adults, song lyrics still possess the influence to impact people's behavior. Considering how rap and hip-hop raise the ire of the public's opposition against tough language, the antagonistic lyrics in pop music are more difficult to weed out.
Researchers Warn Parents to Help Their Children Weed Out Violent-Prone Lyrics in Pop Music
Researchers suggest parents should assist their teenagers and young adult children to discern violent-prone lyrics in pop music. "We know that music has a strong impact on young people and how they view their role in society", says Cynthia Frisby, professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. "Unlike rap or hip-hop, pop music tends to have a bubbly, uplifting sound that is meant to draw listeners in. But that can be problematic if the lyrics beneath the sound are promoting violence and misogynistic behavior." The study listed these pop songs as having veiled references to violence or sexual behavior: "Love the Way You Lie" by Eminem and Rihanna. The song has themes of domestic abuse and violent behavior in retaliation. . "Wake Up Call" by Maroon 5. The song tells the story of a man shooting his girlfriend's lover after finding them together. "Hollaback Girl" by Gwen Stefani the fans of this popular track from 2004 might be surprised to know the song is about a physical fight between girls on a track at school.
Rolling Stone's "Brown Sugar" Does the Lyrics Talk About Slavery and Pedophilia?
How about the song the Rolling Stones recorded called "Brown Sugar", a song speaking of slavery, rape, and borderline pedophilia. Last October, the Stones pulled Brown Sugar from their upcoming"No Filter" concert tour. Guitarist Keith Richard said they feared the 21st-century fans wouldn't grasp what the tune is about "the horrors of slavery," and not celebrating it. Eminem's song called "Kim" is a classic piece about a boy who shoots himself in front of his classmates. Bob Geldof (the singer who played Pink in The Wall) wrote the song to tell the story of 16-year-old Brenda Spencer who was involved in a school shooting during the 1970s' in San Diego. The song's title is the band telling the world why she did it. And Sufjan Stevens' music is about the Killer Clown named John Gacy who sexually assaulted and murdered 33 young boys in Illinois, from1972 to 1978. How can we forget the brutal lyrics of Janie's Got a Gun by Aerosmith? It went like this: "Janie's got a gun. Honey, what have you done? They say when Janie was arrested, they found him underneath a train. But man, he had it coming." The lyrics went on to say, "she had to take him down and put a bullet in his brain; she said because nobody believes me the man was such a sleaze; he ain't never gonna be the same." To add emphasis, 'Now everybody's on the run, Janie got a gun!'
The push to have solid legislation passed at the state and federal level by concerned politicians and the hip-hop community to prevent the introduction of rap lyrics during criminal trials against artists accused of crimes is the first bold step to curb the practice altogether. The roots of the rap-hip-hop genre are the dreams of young, talented, and exceptionally creative young black men and women from the ghettos. But the hard-edge lyrics they spit out aren't always welcome into the mainstream of society. Rap is a form of expression and entertainment that shouldn't be used as evidence by prosecutors if the lyrics have no relevance to the crime the artist is charged with. If somehow an artist commits a crime and raps about the crime he or she committed then its fair game for the court system to use the incriminating lyrics. Overall, is it too much for professional rap artists to fight against the system's attempt to weaponize their music against them to throw them behind bars and destroy their careers?
Newsbreak Contributor Clarence Walker can be reached at email@example.com
Comments / 0