Jefferey Lamar Williams, better known by his stage name Young Thug, is among 28 individuals who were indicted in May for allegedly violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act by engaging in gang activity that is supposedly linked to multiple murders, shootings, and home invasions over nearly a decade. Some of the defendants have pleaded guilty, while 14 others, including Young Thug, are still facing charges.
The defendants argue that their affiliation with the Atlanta rap group Young Stoner Life (YSL) is purely artistic, while the prosecutors claim that the group is a gang responsible for numerous criminal activities. As a result, the prosecutors plan to use Young Thug’s lyrics referencing crime and violence as evidence in court, a tactic that has been used in at least 500 cases documented by researchers at the University of Richmond between 2009 and 2019.
It raises the question about the role of music in politics and the boundaries it has with freedom of expression. However, over the last year, there has been a growing push to end the use of lyrics as evidence, and in September of last year, California became the first state to restrict the use of rap lyrics as evidence in state court through the Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act signed by Governor Gavin Newsom. Unfortunately, support in other states remains reluctant.
It is interesting to note that there seems to be a correlation between rap music specifically and the lyrics chosen to be analyzed in the courtroom. Many genres, including country music, explore the darker aspects of human existence, but such expressions are not seen as an admission of guilt. It’s no surprise that the criminal justice system shows significant bias against young individuals from black and brown communities, both of whom have deep connections with rap and hip hop culture. The way hip-hop expresses certain language is often misinterpreted and there is always the possibility that it is due to intentional misconstruing and prejudices within the system.
7 thoughts on “Freedom of Expression Questioned: Rap Lyrics as Evidence in Courts?”
As was mentioned by the article, with the rap and hip hop communities being deeply connected to black communities, the legal pursuit of lyrics as evidence in courts can easily harbor an anti-black bias. This can already be seen by the fact that only rap and hip-hop artists have been getting in trouble over their lyrics even though all genres of music have songs which go over illegal acts and situations. Another aspect is the fact that this would limit the expression of artists. It would make them wary to talk about real situations that occur and that they might want to comment on, because of fear that they might be incriminated and accused just for simply making music about scenarios that they have seen or experienced.
I don’t believe that rap lyrics should be used as evidence in court. It is self expression or freedom of artistic expression. Everything that is said in lyrics, cannot be used as true evidence, as it is not a formal admission of guilt but rather an artistic form. Lyrics are not always written by the artist either, and are sometimes written by creative writers who work on these projects, and such things can be passed off in court as hearsay. It is true that rap and hip-hop are targeted the most, and a large audience of that music are people from black and brown communities, which are the most targeted in the Justice system. Using evidence of rap lyrics in court is a sign of stereotype/discrimination and a threat to freedom of speech/expression.
I do not think rap lyrics should be used as evidence in court rooms. It is very clear that it can be easily used to discriminate black men. This reminds me of the war on drugs and how cocaine is statistically used more by white people and they often get less sentencing for the use or possession of it. Whereas crack is used more by racial minorities and they oftentimes get more sentencing for it. The reason I bring this up is because the article mentions country music also express darker themes, but will never be considered as evidence in court rooms. The obvious reason being because white people dominate the country genre.
I agree; rap lyrics should not be used as evidence unless that person is confessing to the crime. Courts want to try and find a way to convict rappers based on their lyrics because if someone identifies as a person of a crime in their lyrics, they may be strongly associating that with their identity. But it’s still not sound evidence. Others don’t necessarily misconstrue the lyrics that rappers create. They have a level of honesty that coincides with that rapper’s identity.
I agree; I don’t think rap lyrics should be used as evidence unless that person is confessing to the crime. I think courts want to try and find a way to convict rappers based on their lyrics because if someone identifies as a person of a crime in their lyrics, they may be strongly associating that with their identity. But it’s still not sound evidence. I don’t think others necessarily misconstrue the lyrics that rappers create. I think they have a level of honesty that coincides with that rapper’s identity.
This article sheds light on the indictment of Young Thug, a musical artist and others that he is supposedly affiliated with. The prosecution is using Young Thug’s lyrics referencing crimes against him in the court of law. This seems racially motivated and if a white artist were in the same situation he may never have been questioned. Taking Young Thug’s lyrics literally and using them against him is a crime itself in the art world. His free speech has not been taken away, rather his art is being used against him. In the future this could censor his lyrics and contribute to the decline of his music.
Great article! I liked what you mentioned at the end about there being a bias in what kind of genre of lyrics are used in court with rap being the clear outlier while other genres, clearly talk about dark topics that are often ignored. Yet, I do think about the recent murders of rappers (Migos’s Takeoff, Young Dolph, PNB Rock, etc) and how lyrics in certain, not necessarily by these rappers, can reflect on ways they were killed. While I don’t think it should be used as evidence in political cases, it does make me question lyrics in general and how much harm they can cause.