Rappers respond: ‘This is how we express ourselves’

This story was published on PBS NewsHour on July 2, 2014.

Rappers Respond

A man shoots his foe in the head over and over again, leaving him to bleed out on the street. The man has no remorse. He even brags about it.

Only this man isn’t real. He’s a character in a rap song written by Vonte Skinner, who was sentenced to 30 years in a New Jersey state penitentiary for the attempted murder of Lamont Peterson.

In Skinner’s case, prosecutors relied on two eyewitnesses who claimed he was the shooter, though their stories had changed several times. They also read 13 pages of violent rap lyrics to the jury, taken straight from Skinner’s own notebooks, to show his violent intentions and aspirations.

Across the country, police and prosecutors are increasingly using a suspect’s own rap lyrics as evidence in criminal cases. Law enforcement argues that they help establish motive or intent and in some cases even contain confessions. But critics argue that rap music is just that: music. It’s not a diary.

NewsHour recently reported on this growing trend and the issues of relevance, prejudice and first amendment protections that are being weighed when the criminal justice system probes lyrics.

We wanted to know more about what artists and others in the hip hop industry think about this trend and the various arguments about why it does or does not make good evidence…read more at PBS NewsHour.