Days after Killer Mike delivered a powerful, heartfelt speech in St. Louis following the grand jury decision not to press charges in the death of Michael Brown, the Run the Jewels 2 rapper teamed with author Erik Nielson to pen an op-ed regarding hip hop lyrics and the U.S. judicial system titled “Rap’s poetic (In)justice” for USA Today.
At the crux of Killer Mike and Nielson’s op-ed is the story of Anthony Elonis, a 27-year-old male whose violent postings on social media, delivered in the form of rap lyrics, was used as evidence in court against him. Elonis was later sentenced to 44 months in prison. In the op-ed, the two writers examine the “double standard” hip hop lyrics face as an art form, as it is both protected by the First Amendment, but also admissible as evidence in court.
“It is true that hip-hop has been scarred by violence,” the rapper and Nielson write. “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.”
The op-ed then reviews other cases in which rap lyrics were used as evidence against a defendant, including some cases where a state’s Supreme Court was forced to overturn the verdict. Later this month, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear Elonis’ case and decide whether his First Amendment rights were violated when he was arrested and convicted for making threatening remarks borrowed from rap lyrics towards his ex-wife and an FBI agent.
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“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,” Killer Mike and Nielson write in conclusion. “These problems are the ‘true threats’ facing America today, not hip-hop. Let’s hope the justices on the Supreme Court understand that, too.”