Published Dec 01, 2014Run the Jewels rapper Killer Mike has been very outspoken in regards to the racial tension in Ferguson, MO, and now he's written another op-ed, this time about the way rap music is treated in the courts.
This essay for USA Today, entitled "Rap's poetic (In)justice," was co-written with Erik Nielson, and it finds the rapper known as Michael Render addressing Elonis v. U.S., a case that will be going before the courts this month. This will allow the Supreme Court to settle an issue of "true threats" and when personal expression goes beyond the bounds of free speech.
The case concerns Anthony Elonis, who posted violent messages on Facebook starting back in 2010. These often took the form of rap lyrics, and although he argued that his words were a fictional art form, he was nevertheless found guilty of communicating threats and sentenced to 44 months in prison.
Killer Mike and Nielson argue, "Rap lyrics have been introduced as evidence of a defendant's criminal behavior in hundreds of cases nationwide, frequently leading to convictions that are based on prosecutors' blatant mischaracterizations of the genre."
They contend that rap lyrics are often presented as "literal autobiography" during trials, rather than treated as a form of artistic expression.
This is unique to hip-hop, according to the op-ed authors. Here's what they have to say on the history of hip-hop and how it is perceived in the courts:
No other fictional form — musical, literary or cinematic — is used this way in the courts, a concerning double standard that research suggests is rooted, at least in part, in stereotypes about the people of color primarily associated with rap music, as well as the misconception that hip-hop and the artists behind it are dangerous.
In fact, the history of hip-hop tells a very different story. In its formative years, for example, it was explicitly conceived by many as an alternative to the violent gang culture that consumed cities like New York. Since then, it has offered countless young men and women opportunities to escape the poverty and violence in America's urban centers. As rapper Ice T once put it, "If I hadn't had a chance to rap, I'd either be dead or in jail.
It is true that hip-hop has been scarred by violence. Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G., for example, two of rap's most important and influential artists, were killed in the prime of their careers. But for each instance of violence, there are countless examples of lives saved or made stronger. Trust us on this: The kids spending hours per day writing rap songs aren't a threat to society; they are often trying to escape the threats from society.
We should point out that heavy metal has also come under legal scrutiny; remember that Marilyn Manson was frequently cited as a possible cause of the tragic Columbine killings of 1999. Mike's point is different, however, in that it specifically concerns artistic expression.
Read the full op-ed here.