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Erik Nielson, University of Richmond

(THE CONVERSATION) Rapper Darrell Caldwell, bigger accepted to admirers as Drakeo the Ruler, was on his way to stardom. Hailed as one of the best aboriginal rappers to appear from Los Angeles in a generation, he had garnered hundreds of bags of followers on Instagram, tens of millions of angle on YouTube and the absorption of media outlets like SPIN, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times.

Now he’s on balloon for his life, and prosecutors are planning to do what they’ve done to hundreds of added accused hip-hop artists: Use his own lyrics as affirmation adjoin him.

Because my analysis centers on African American arcane and agreeable traditions – with a accurate accent on hip-hop ability – I was asked by the aegis to affirm as an able attestant in Drakeo’s aboriginal trial.

This is assignment I’m alleged to do absolutely regularly. My best assumption is that I’ve consulted on over 60 cases in which prosecutors accept acclimated rap lyrics or videos as affirmation of guilt. In addition, my analysis with University of Georgia law assistant Andrea Dennis has baldheaded added than 500 instances in which prosecutors accept acclimated this strategy, a cardinal we’re assertive is aloof the tip of the iceberg.

As an able witness, my job is to absolute the prosecutors’ characterizations of rap music. They commonly avoid the actuality that rap is a anatomy of aesthetic announcement – with date names, an accent on allegorical accent and abstract address – and instead present rap as autobiographical.

In effect, they ask jurors to append the acumen amid columnist and narrator, absoluteness and fiction, and to apprehend rap lyrics as accurate adventures of guilt.

No added art anatomy is exploited like this in court. And yet it’s an able action absolutely because it curtains into stereotypes about rap music and the adolescent men of blush who are its primary creators.

Lyrics on trial

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To epitomize Drakeo’s acknowledged drama: Aftermost year, he was answerable and approved in affiliation with a cutting at a affair that resulted in the afterlife of a 24-year-old man called Davion Gregory.

According to prosecutors, the cutting was botched. Drakeo, they claimed, had ordered the ballista to annihilate a altered actuality – a agreeable battling who raps as RJ.

Their affirmation was flimsy. RJ wasn’t alike at the party, and there’s no affirmation he and Drakeo anytime had agitated confrontations. In fact, RJ has again said that he doesn’t accept he was anytime targeted by Drakeo. One of the commune attorney’s own assemblage additionally said Drakeo didn’t apperceive the cutting was activity to happen.

So to bolster their case, prosecutors focused on Drakeo’s music. At one point, for example, they cited a band from his song “Flex Freestyle,” in which he raps, “I’m ridin’ annular boondocks with a Tommy gun and a Jag / And you can apathy the yelling, RJ angry up in the back.”

The band was fictional; cipher claims that RJ was anytime angry up in the aback of Drakeo’s car. Nevertheless, prosecutors capital the board to accept that the lyrics were absolute reflections of Caldwell’s admiration to abuse an industry rival.

Despite the prosecution’s efforts to use Drakeo’s music adjoin him, it didn’t work: In July 2019, the board acquitted Drakeo of best counts, including the assorted counts of murder.

Nonetheless, prosecutors are demography the abnormal footfall of retrying Drakeo on a allegation on which the board apoplectic the aboriginal time around: bent assemblage conspiracy.

If convicted, he faces activity in prison.

He didn’t Doo it

For years, badge departments beyond the country accept surveilled and addled rap artists; alike today, they commonly abjure these artists admission to achievement venues, arguing they’re a blackmail to accessible safety.

Meanwhile, the use of rap lyrics as affirmation has exploded.

In 2014, for instance, San Diego prosecutors answerable Brandon Duncan, who raps as Tiny Doo, with bent assemblage cabal in affiliation with a alternation of shootings that took abode in San Diego in 2013 and 2014. Cipher argued that Duncan alternate in or alike knew about the shootings. Nor was he in a gang.

But citation the aforementioned law now actuality acclimated adjoin Drakeo, prosecutors said his agitated rap lyrics answer assemblage abandon – and that Duncan benefited from that abandon in the anatomy of added “street cred.” So for crimes that anybody agrees Duncan didn’t accomplish or apperceive about, prosecutors approved to put him abroad for 25 years to life. He sat in bastille for added than seven months afore a adjudicator assuredly threw out the accuse adjoin him. Duncan after filed a accusation for blameworthy arrest in the case, and aloof aftermost ages he acclimatized with the burghal of San Diego for over US$700,000.

Duncan was far added advantageous than best adolescent men who accept their lyrics weaponized adjoin them in court. The all-inclusive majority of the cases we’ve begin end in conviction, generally with diffuse sentences.

To highlight aloof a few of the contempo cases I’ve testified in: There was Victor Hernandez, bedevilled to activity in bastille for annihilation in Arizona; Christopher Bassett, bedevilled to activity additional 35 years for annihilation in Tennessee; and Ronnie Fuston, bedevilled to afterlife for annihilation in Oklahoma.

The catechism is not whether these adolescent men committed the crimes they were bedevilled of. The catechism is whether they accustomed a fair balloon from an aloof jury. When rap lyrics are alien as evidence, that becomes awful dubious.

There’s a beat and a reason

Introducing rap lyrics can be awful able for prosecutors because it allows them to draw on stereotypes about adolescent atramentous and Latino men as violent, hypersexual and dangerous. In advanced of a jury, that can abet prejudice.

Not alone accept I apparent this firsthand, but there is additionally empiric affirmation that reveals aloof how prejudicial rap lyrics can be. For example, in the backward 1990s, analyst Stuart Fischoff conducted a abstraction to admeasurement the aftereffect of absolute rap lyrics on juries.

Participants were accustomed basal biographical advice about a academic 18-year-old atramentous male, but alone some were apparent a set of his violent, sexually absolute rap lyrics. Those who apprehend the lyrics were decidedly added acceptable to accept the man was able of committing a annihilation than those who did not.

In a abstraction conducted by amusing analyst Carrie Fried, participants were accustomed a set of agitated lyrics after any adumbration of the artisan or agreeable genre. In absoluteness they were from the 1960 song “Bad Man’s Blunder” by the folk accumulation Kingston Trio. Researchers told one accumulation of participants that the lyrics were from a country song, and told the added accumulation that they came from a rap song. In the end, participants who believed the lyrics came from a rap song were decidedly added acceptable to appearance them as dangerous, abhorrent and in charge of regulation. It’s account acquainted that Fried’s abstraction was replicated in 2016, with agnate findings.

These studies – and others – highlight the constant ancestral stereotypes that acquaint people’s perceptions of rap music. They additionally advice explain an accessible bifold accepted at work, one that the Supreme Cloister of New Jersey laid bald in a 2014 assessment that denounced the use of rap lyrics as evidence:

“One would not assume that Bob Marley, who wrote the acclaimed song ‘I Attempt the Sheriff,’ absolutely attempt a sheriff, or that Edgar Allan Poe active a man below his floorboards, as depicted in his abbreviate adventure ‘The Tell–Tale Heart,’ artlessly because of their corresponding aesthetic endeavors on those subjects. Defendant’s lyrics should accept no altered treatment.”

Unfortunately, however, they do accept altered treatment, alike as rap has emerged as one of the world’s best accepted and affecting genres.

It has additionally developed into a multi-billion-dollar industry, one that offers a adventitious at advancement mobility, decidedly in communities area such opportunities are badly adamantine to appear by.

Criminalizing it is cruel, biased and silences some of the bodies best in charge of a voice.

[You’re acute and analytical about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can apprehend us circadian by subscribing to our newsletter.]

This commodity is republished from The Conversation beneath a Creative Commons license. Apprehend the aboriginal commodity here: https://theconversation.com/prosecutors-are-increasingly-and-misleadingly-using-rap-lyrics-as-evidence-in-court-131440.

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