Criminologist Charis Kubrin of the University of California Irvine studies the perception of rap music in society and how a defendant's rap lyrics can be used as evidence against him in a criminal trial. Kubrin says rap lyrics are stereotyped as violent, dangerous and threatening, while lyrics in other genres of music are viewed as artistic expression. The stereotype exists in courtrooms, where prosecutors unfairly use rap lyrics as incriminating evidence against defendants, she tells the Orange County Register. “Rap is another form of artistic expression, but rather than treating the lyrics as art and poetry, it's taken as literal and true,” Kubrin says. “No other form of artistic expression has been treated by the courts this way.” She has written three research papers on the topic, regularly consults with defense attorneys and has testified as an expert witness on how rap lyrics are a form of creative expression.
This month, Kubrin joined with rap star Killer Mike in writing an amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case of former Mississippi high school student Taylor Bell, who was suspended in 2011 after he wrote a profanity-filled rap that decried two coaches accused of sexual misconduct. Kubrin concedes she doesn't look like a typical fan. As a white scholar in her 40s, she gets snickers in the courtroom when she's introduced as an expert witness in rap music. As a sociologist at George Washington University, Kubrin began studying rap as an important voice for a historically marginalized group of people. Although the music has been criticized for its violence and misogyny, Kubrin says rap is a form of poetry that should be understood in its historical and social context.