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Content Analysis of How Courts Use and Misuse Rap Lyrics in Criminal Cases (ssrn.com)
41 points by bookofjoe 70 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 22 comments



This almost sounds like something out of The Onion. How can lyrics of a song, something - by definition - made up, be useful or acceptable as evidence?


In no US jurisdiction are you allowed to cut out someone's heart and store it under your floor. You're also not allowed to threaten someone that you'll do this to them, or incite others to do the same. You're not allowed to get on a street corner and say "The time has come to find Bob Jones, drag him out of his house, and cut his heart out of his chest."

You are, however, allowed in all jurisdictions to write a story like Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" where the narrator does the same.

The question that arises in rap music is, when the rapper says, "Imma kill Bob Jones and cut his heart out his chest," is it more like the former or the latter? Is the "I" the rapper, or like Poe's narrator? It's a hard question for the law, because yes, the distinction between a novelist and a rapper is deeply tied into structural discrimination along lines of race and class, but also there are many more rappers than novelists who become the perpetrators and victims of violent deaths.


Switch genres, and go back to the days when you had to have grounds for divorce. Here's a country song about meeting some lady in a bar and sleeping with her. Did that give the singer's wife grounds for divorce? No.

So why is it different if it's rap?


the paper posits that judicial systems treat rappers as the 1st when it means stronger sentencing and as the 2nd when the lyrics could mitigate their liability

its all fiction until it means ruining someone's life


Of course, Bob Jones died 20 years ago of natural causes.

And ironically, it was Bob Jones who directly said that student protesters (like those at Kent State) should be shot. Yet he is not cited as evidence in mass shootings.

So while there is some abstract principle about hypothetical fiction vs intentional directive. There is something going on other than rational and even application of a principle. Likewise, I imagine very few young men of color are found not guilty on the Twinky Defense.


"I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die."


Where are all the free-speech zealots from the "CloudFlare shuts down 8chan" thread?


In this thread, saying it's bad when this is done?


They are zealots, but not for free speech.


hacker news is a bubble of mostly middle class white male libertarians. what would you expect?


Liberals, yes. Libertarians, haha no.


there's too many "choose to leave your job" posts that get upvoted for there not to be a libertarian majority.


FTA: “Using qualitative content analysis, we found that rap evidence was proffered in these cases in one or more of five distinct ways: (1) to prove gang affiliation for sentencing enhancement purposes; (2) as circumstantial evidence of the commission of a crime; (3) as direct evidence of having communicated a threat; (4) to prove motive, knowledge, intent, identity, or character; or (5) to establish what incited the commission of a crime.”

Later in the paper, the authors posit that a feature of the rap genre is to “blur” the distinction between fictional exploits (e.g. of committing crimes) and reality, and that defendants seem to not get the benefit of the doubt.

> In spite of the creative license that many rappers take when crafting their songs, scholars have noted that the legal system has increasingly used rap lyrics as evidence as if the words were “truthful and autobiographical.”

> ...While nobody believes that Bob Marley shot the sheriff or Johnny Cash shot a man in Reno, neither artist tried to convince the public that the crimes were real. There was no question about the distinction between artist and performer. Rappers, however, blur that distinction all the time.

It's funny, and appropriate, that Johnny Cash is used as an example of how non-rap music is obviously meant to be fictional. While I never thought he "shot a man in Reno", I had always assumed he had some kind of less serious prison record. But Wikipedia says "he never served a prison sentence", though he did go to jail several times for misdemeanors. Country music has plenty of songs about lawlessness and debauchery; as prominent as the genre has been, it would be surprising, statistically speaking, if country lyrics were never used against the artist, in criminal or civil cases (e.g. divorce suits and songs about adultery).

edit: added second excerpt


Where in the definition of a song/lyrics does it say it has to be "made up"?


Lyrics are written or spoken components of songs and songs (with vocalizations) are poetry.

Poetry is an artistic expression of ideas and feelings.

I suppose all songwriters could preface their music with : "I plead the 5th amendment"


Bards used songs to tell of real tales.

Just because lyrics are poetry, does not mean the story it tells is made up.

If a rapper rattled off GPS coordinates bragging about where he buried a dead body, and the police found that body there, would you support using that as evidence to start an investigation into the rapper?


Your line of questioning is disingenuous

Rappers today use songs to tell of real events

but if the king hangs a bard or jester for a song or joke he doesn't like, it is a despotic use of power. The courts job is to fairly dispense justice and utilizing someone's artistic expression to punish them and then at the same time discounting it if it would exonerate them is an abuse of that power


That is totally different. In that case the rapper conveyed something material about the case not an expression of sentiment.


drakeo the ruler was in court because of his lyrics


so basically prosecutors are using rap lyrics as evidence when convenient to obtain a conviction (which the judge allows), and actively fighting in not allowing use of rap lyrics when the defendant offers it as exculpatory evidence as it might hurt the prosecutor's ability to obtain a conviction (which the judge allows)

these incentives are all messed up.


Key & Peele made a very entertaining song about this at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14WE3A0PwVs

I always found it funny yet somewhat disturbing, and the paper makes it more real than I can comfortably handle.


Another song related to this is "Rap Snitch Knishes" by MF DOOM.




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