One week after giving an emotional pre-show speech about the St. Louis grand jury’s decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, Killer Mike published an op-ed about the Supreme Court’s upcoming hearing in one of the many legal cases in which rap lyrics are used as evidence against defendants.
Co-written by Erik Nielson, an assistant professor of Liberal Arts at the University of Richmond, and published by USA Today, the column, “Rap’s poetic (In)justice,” tells the story of Anthony Elonis, who sentenced to 44 months in jail for communicating threats after he posted violent lyrics on Facebook about his estranged wife and a female FBI agent. Despite Elonis’ claims that he wasn’t serious and said it was just an artistic means of venting, two lower courts upheld the conviction.
Killer Mike and Nielson point out that the use of violent rap lyrics as evidence has become a disturbing trend in the last decade or so. “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,” they wrote, citing how rap is often a productive alternative to crime and violence.”
“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. That story of hip-hop has been frustratingly difficult to tell, especially when the murder of Jordan Davis can be framed in the media as the ‘loud rap music’ case or Michael Brown’s association with rap music becomes part of a tragic story line that has far more to do with inequality, police brutality and racial discrimination. These problems are the ‘true threats’ facing America today, not hip-hop. Let’s hope the justices on the Supreme Court understand that, too.”