Should a jury hear (or read) violent lyrics written by a criminal defendant? Even if they were written years before the crime? The issue has come up in a number of cases, including one that was recently argued in the New Jersey Supreme Court (State v. Skinner).
Two professors argue that rap lyrics should be entitled to protection as artistic expression. Erik Nielson & Charles E. Kubrin, Rap Lyrics on Trial, N.Y. Times Jan. 13, 2014.
The lower judges disagreed: the majority remanded, holding that the admission of the lyrics was prejudicial; a dissenter would have upheld the admission of the lyrics, finding that the trial judge appropriately applied New Jersey's four-part test for admission of extrinsic "bad-act" evidence. State v. Skinner, No. A-2201-08T2 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. Aug. 31, 2012). The opinions offer extensive analysis and factual context. The ACLU of New Jersey's amicus brief is here link to the organization's amicus brief.
While we Seattleites can be proud of our hometown rappers Macklemore and Ryan Lewis who won four Grammys and are white, it is clear that attitudes toward rap are tied to attitudes about young black men. Some commentary by bloggers and two radio programs:
- Scott H. Greenfield, The Rhyming Irrelevance of Rap, Simple Justice: A Criminal Defense blog, Jan. 14, 2014.
- Deborah C. England, Rap Lyrics in Evidence: Is it a Crime to Rhyme?, CriminalDefense.com (among other points, asks: why rap and not pop? what about "Helter-Skelter" by Paul McCartney?)
- Dan Brooks, New Jersey supreme court to consider admissibility of rap lyrics, Combat! ("oppositional culture for an occupied age"), Jan. 14, 2014.
- Rap, Race, Free Speech and Crimes, Basic Black (WGBH), Jan. 17, 2014 (panel discussion including professors of law, music, and writing)
- Rap Lyrics as Evidence, On the Media, Jan. 17, 2014. Transcript here.