Everyone has free speech (Unless you're a rapper)
I have the critical eye to recognize Hip-Hop as a cultural phenomena, the voice of the unheard, a socioecononic measuring tool. I take my ascension to the Hip-Hop playing field very serious. I have dreamed of telling my stories--which include the stories of my neighborhood, and my fallen comrades. When I started out rapping in 3rd grade, I reflected stories that I heard throughout my neighborhood. So, that meant a heavy emphasis on street life, gang life, and gangsta rap culture. A rap from 3rd grade that I vividly remember went as follows:
"Dam, Cuz the spot's getting hot/can't trust the paramedics or these crooked ass cops
the average nigga do ya, screw ya/and act like they neva knew ya"
As this rhyme suggests, at 8 or 9 years old, I was accustomed to knowing police officers were and were seen as being crooked. While most kids my age dreamed of becoming a police officer, I knew culturally that would be bad for me and other African Americans. Fast-forward to 8th grade, I flash back to a moment when me and three of my friends (one of whom is dead and another of whom is locked up for 55 years in prison) were all sitting in a car listening to rap instrumentals, and I think of another quote from my "gangsta rap" days:
"Nigga I don't talk talk/Nigga I will take yo legs now you can't walk walk"
These kind of lyrics came second nature to me. However, I had never or had I ever planned on killing anyone. Except, maybe threatening to kill a nigga to win an argument. This was all apart of our aesthetics growing up in North Memphis in the early 2000s. But African Americans have always had "spectacular vernaculars" and used language in creative ways: signifying, playing the dozens, checking, etc.
So, let's imagine for a moment that I went to trial at 15 years old for murder. Imagine that there was no physical evidence of said murder. Imagine that the only evidence that the prosecutors have to convict me are lyrics to a song that I wrote in the 8th grade. First of all, how would a song even be admissible in court? Isn't a song art? Isn't it all entertainment? Yes, a song is art and entertainment. Yes. But nevermind all that hypothetical talk; no one has ever been convicted of a crime based solely upon lyrics to a fictitious song. Right?
Oh, except that time in 2011 when college student and aspiring rapper, Olutosin Oduwole was convicted of making a terrorist threat based on lyrics he had written. Oduwole's car had run out of gas, forcing him to abandon it on the Edwardsville campus of Southern Illinois University. He was charged in 2007, after four years of trying to get his case dismissed for lack of evidence. He even had an expert witness, criminologist Dr. Charis Kubrin, to testify as an expert witness. Kubrin testified that the lyrics the prosecutors used as evidence to convict Oduwole "represent initial ideas or concepts for a song or may constitute the Intro or Outro to a song" as opposed to a terrorist threat. The jury wasn't convinced of this expert witness's testimony and after only three hours of deliberating, they declared Oduwole guilty. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison. (Kubrin and Nielson 2014)
Okay, that was just that one case. I guess this was one of those one in a million cases. This could never happen to multiple people, right? Oh, except that time in 2006 when Ronell Wilson, a young African American man charged with killing two detectives in Brooklyn, was convicted and sentenced to death. Prosecutors successfully argued that written lyrics found in Wilson's car were "confessional." Ronell Wilson was the only person in New York to be sentenced to the federal death penalty in more than 50 years.
He killed two officers, what do you expect? That was a special case, no one is just going to jail for lyrics in their songs and they didn't commit a crime. Right?! Barring that time in 2011, when a 32-year-old Clyde Smith, also an African American man, was arrested for driving 19 miles over the speed limit in Houma, Louisiana when police found (legally acquired) prescription pill bottles from clinics in Texas. Charged with intent to distribute, Smith was convicted of drug possession. Among the evidence presented during trial were online videos Smith made with local rap group The Rico Gang, in which he raps about selling prescription drugs. Prosecutors successfully argued that Smith, rapping as "G-Red, admitted to his crimes" (Heisig, 2011). Smith testified that, "it's nothing but entertainment. I sometimes rap about real life. But I know a lot of people that sell drugs. I try to touch on what I saw" (as quoted in Heisig, 2011). Despite the fact that Smith had prescriptions for all of the drugs in his possession, that he had medical conditions justifying their use, and that no pills were missing from the containers, he was found guilty. The worst of it all, because he had a prior record, he was sentenced to an alarming 30 years in prison.
Okay, fuck the disbelief, there is a war on an art form. An art form that have it's roots established in the heart and soul of black America. All around the world judges, juries, prosecutors and police officers alike are criminalizing rap. In the eyes of these racist and bigots, Rap is not an art form, it's all autobiographical confessions of niggers committing crimes. "How stupid are these niggers to put all their crimes in one central place, it's so easy to catch them now" - American Justice System. Rap is the ONLY genre to be treated this way in the court system. The Nevada Supreme Court recently ruled that violent rap lyrics were admissible as evidence. This shows that 50 years after the Selma march, 50 years after the Voting Rights Act, 50 years after Freedom Summer that black lives and especially black art doesn't matter. Well, it's actually not art. Just some shiftless jiggaboos talking about their criminal activity.
If you think for one second I am exaggerating the treatment of African Americans in America, for one you can fall off a cliff, but for two you don't know facts like: From 1882 to 1968, "...nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress, and three passed the House. Seven presidents between 1890 and 1952 petitioned Congress to pass a federal law." No bill was approved by the Senate because of the powerful opposition of the Southern Democratic voting bloc.
Apartheid aint over, they just got more strategic with their racism.
I would like to thank Dr. Charis Kubrin and Erik Nielson for writing a very informative article that immediately sparked my outrage and led to this piece. Please check out their article for Race and Justice called, "Rap on Trial"
Rap on Trial is available at http://raj.sagepub.com/content/4/3/185