Should Rap Lyrics Be Used in Criminal Trials?

Categories: Hip-Hop

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Legions of angry parents were already up in arms when gangster rap arrived on the scene. After the 1985 PMRC Senate hearings helped institute "Parental Advisory" stickers, albums by Ice-T and N.W.A. were among the first to be branded. Since then, rap as a musical form has continued to take its lumps for what concerned onlookers deemed questionable content. Many rappers, though frustrated with the America in which they had grown up, sought refuge in one of the most fundamentally American ideals: free speech -- an issue apparently unresolved, because 25 years later, rap lyrics are being used as evidence in criminal trials, and the New Jersey Supreme Court is set to weigh in on the issue.

The New York Times released a piece on the murder trial of Vonte Skinner, which featured, along with eyewitness accounts, thirteen pages of rap lyrics that neither referenced the victim nor the details of the crime. Instead, the lyrics were used to establish the defendant's character. Skinner was initially convicted and sentenced to thirty years in prison before that ruling was overturned by an appellate court which stated that the lyrics should not have been admissible. Now, the state has appealed that ruling, and the New Jersey Supreme Court is set to decide whether the lyrics should be allowed.

Putting the legal argument aside -- because even though I play one on TV, I am not an actual lawyer -- it doesn't seem like lyrics would be very compelling in a system supposedly concerned with the facts, but it's no secret that facts and final impressions don't always get along. In a genre where it is almost assumed by seasoned hip-hop listeners that at least a quarter of what your average keepin'-it-real rappers says is complete bullshit, to have these words play a major role in determining the innocence of the author would be comical if it weren't actually happening.

Defenders of rap compare it to other audacious artistic statements, like Bret Ellis's American Psycho, an account of several gruesome murders in the first-person narrative. But while it is understood that Ellis's job to inhabit foreign personas, it is understood within rap, and thus more tenuously by the outside world, that a degree of what a rapper brings is authenticity, coupled with more fantastic stories than the next guy. The problem is that while these tall tales are like Santa Claus to people who listen to rap, they are like the Domino Effect to people who don't.

Continue to page two for more.


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27 comments
Cody Bippen
Cody Bippen

That's creative content, man. Using it against them is unjust.

Matt Burkey
Matt Burkey

leave it to mtv to guide our children

Matt Burkey
Matt Burkey

lol exactly. responsibility has nothing to do with influence though. you can be influenced to be irresponsible, or influenced to have a certain opinion. and the lack of parenting means EVEN MORE influence from media and icons in pop culture, how old are you anyway? because i am 18 and have experienced this shit in school first hand

Stephanie Jones
Stephanie Jones

Matt Burkey, that's called atmosphere and lack of parenting. Responsibility for self is keyword. No worries on them running the country because they will have absolutely no interest....

Matt Burkey
Matt Burkey

you have a right to your opinion, but when i see kids with baggy pants, talking like godamn neanderthals with their illiterate slang, selling drugs, no values for life other then sex money and drugs, it makes me concerned for the future of america, these are the people that will be running the country one day

Matt Burkey
Matt Burkey

so lil wayne doesnt actually drink sizzurp?

Stephanie Jones
Stephanie Jones

Matt Burkey, I grew up in the hood, listened to rap, amongst a few other genres, and nothing idiotic, wanna be or hoodrat here. It's personal choice to act a fool or stay acting right.

Stephanie Jones
Stephanie Jones

Nope! Most of these rappers don't write their own stuff, nor do they come from the hood. It's ENTERTAINMENT and criminals need to learn to take responsibility for their OWN actions.

Matt Burkey
Matt Burkey

not a fan of rap at all, and my personal opinion is that its had a huge negative influence on young america, ive seen my own generation turn into complete idiots, wanna be gangsters and hoodrats. It's pretty pathetic

Matt Burkey
Matt Burkey

You have a really good point, but nowadays most artist practice what they preach

Sharon Walker
Sharon Walker

The answer is obviously no....unless it can be proven to have really happened. Then, yeah, don't be stupid and tell your business for the whole world to hear.

Sharon Walker
Sharon Walker

"I shot the sheriff, but I did not shoot the deputy..." Bob Marley is in big trouble...lol

Chris DiMercurio
Chris DiMercurio

Only if you did the same to video game programmers and movie executives.

Jamie Van
Jamie Van

No. Many times, violent lyrics is just posturing.

Eric Jacobs
Eric Jacobs

No cause then they could do the same to a movie star for a role

Marc Seleman
Marc Seleman

Only if the rapper was on trial. Not someone else.

Lance Lingle
Lance Lingle

Lyrics don't kill people, people kill people.

Norma Cole Sosko
Norma Cole Sosko

No. Dumb. Music doesn't make you commit a crime! Ppl choose to commit crime. A gun kills because some idiot chooses to shoot another person.

Chris Ward
Chris Ward

That would be like using "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die" in an attempted murder case against Johnny Cash. Ridiculous. This isn't even up for debate.

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