Rap Lyrics Playing Prominent Roles In Criminal Prosecutions–Is It Fair?


Rap lyrics have played prominent roles in more than three dozen prosecutions in the past two years, says the New York Times. In some cases, police say the lyrics represent confessions. More often, the lyrics are used to paint an unsavory picture of a defendant to help establish motive and intent. The proliferation of cases alarms scholars and defense lawyers, who say the lyrics are being unfairly used to prejudice judges and juries who have little understanding that, “for all its glorification of violence, gangsta rappers are often people who have assumed over-the-top and fictional personas.” Criminologist Charis Kubrin of the University of California Irvine says, “If you aspire to be a gangsta rapper, by definition your lyrics need to be violent.”

Prosecutors say the lyrics are an important tool for battling criminals who use an outspoken embrace of violence as a weapon of control. “Just because you put your confession to music doesn't give you a free pass,” said Alan Jackson, formerly of the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. Increasingly, the act of writing the lyrics themselves is being prosecuted — not because they are viewed as corroborating an incident, but because prosecutors contend that the words themselves amount to a criminal threat. The debate is playing out in courtrooms. In Topeka, Ks., a judge will rule on a motion to exclude rap lyrics from a double murder case. New Jersey’s Supreme Court soon will hear arguments on whether 13 pages of lyrics written by Vonte Skinner — including lines like “four slugs drillin' your cheek to blow your face off and leave your brain caved in the street” — should have been admitted at his trial for attempted murder.

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