Black rappers who have had their lyrics used as evidence of criminal activity against them by prosecutors have renewed calls to end the practice as the high-profile criminal trial of rapper Young Thug started this week.
They claim that while violence and other dark themes are frequently referenced in many artistic works, they are only weaponized against hip-hop artists.
Young Thug, whose real name is Jefferey Lamar Williams, is one of 28 people accused of breaking Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act by participating in gang activity that was allegedly linked to a number of homicides, shootings, and a string of home invasions over the course of almost ten years.
The indictment against them was released in May. 14 of the individuals, including Young Thug, who is the most well-known, who are connected to the Atlanta rap group YSL, are yet to be charged. Others of the men have already entered guilty pleas. It’s anticipated that the experiment would last six to nine months.
Young Thug and the other defendants insist that YSL is a group of rappers, but the prosecution claims otherwise and intends to utilize songs that make reference to crime and violence as evidence in court.
McKinley Phipps, a hip-hop musician better known by his stage as “Mac,” says the continuing case has brought back difficult memories. He signed with No Limit Records before being found guilty of homicide and sentenced to 20 years in jail.
Phipps asserted that over 99% of the musicians who are composing these songs are either greatly exaggerated or outright fabrications. “Hip-hop itself is merely a media, a largely Black one, and it can be represented negatively or favorably.
After being found guilty of murdering a 19-year-old at a Louisiana bar where he was due to perform in 2001, Phipps received a 30-year jail term.
Phipps was tied to the crime by no physical evidence or weapon, and at the time, he was 22 years old and had never been arrested. Nonetheless, he said that the majority of the attention of Phipps’ trial was on the rap song lyrics that the prosecution compared to a propensity for violence.
He said that the lyrics used by the prosecution included “pull the trigger,” “murder, murder, kill, kill,” and other phrases. A request for comment was not immediately responded to by the 22nd Judicial District District Attorney’s Office in Louisiana.
The claim that it is autobiographical is untrue; rather, it is largely a marketing ploy because, regrettably, the public is hungry for such edgy and violent content, much as people enjoy action movies, according to Phipps.
He was freed from jail on parole two months after Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards gave him mercy. Despite the fact that his conviction is still upheld, Phipps has continued to assert his innocence and criticize the prosecution’s manipulation of the evidence in his case.
Phipps claimed that witnessing the reenactment of what he perceives to be his own narrative in the case of Young Thug brought back sad recollections of time spent in prison due to artistic expression.
He remarked, “If there is genuine evidence, why do the song lyrics even come into play? I would like to assume that prosecutors have more than simply song lyrics to use against someone in court. “At some point, this simply needs to end.”
Prejudice Towards Rap Music
According to the University of Richmond researchers who collected at least 500 instances from 2009 to 2019 for the book “Rap on Trial: Race, Lyrics, and Guilt in America,” prosecutors frequently utilize rap lyrics as evidence in criminal prosecutions.
According to Charis E. Kubrin, a professor at the University of California Irvine who has studied the use of rap lyrics in the court system, prosecutors adopt the strategy because it is successful in securing convictions.
The newest example of this is in criminal cases when lyrics are used to demonstrate purpose or motive, but societal control or policing of rap music and hip-hop, in general, have a long history, she added.
According to Kubrin, who said that most of this bias is racist, she has discovered prejudice towards rap music and musicians via her research.
Several groups of participants were shown similar music lyrics in a 2018 study by Kubrin and colleagues and published in the Journal of Experimental Criminology. Participants were informed that the lyrics were either from a country, heavy metal or rap song.
The participants determined that the writer of the perceived rap lyrics was more likely to be of bad character and to engage in criminal conduct by assigning a higher overall unfavorable score to them.
Participants who assumed the songwriter was Black assessed him more harshly than those who assumed the writer was white on the same scale when race information was withheld.
The two are very connected, according to Kubrin. Hence, whether or not the defendant is Black, incorporating lyrics from rap music, a historically Black genre, might contaminate juries with anti-Black bigotry, she explained.
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Justifying the Procedure
Using song lyrics as evidence has been justified by Fulton County prosecutor Fani Willis, whose office is prosecuting Young Thug and other YSL members.
At the news conference in August, Willis informed the media, “I think if you chose to acknowledge your crimes over a beat, I’m going to use it.” “I’ll keep doing it; people can keep being furious about it. If you don’t want your confession to be utilized, don’t confess to crimes in rap lyrics, or at the very least, leave my county.