Rappers and the American Criminal Justice System

Hip-Hop behind bars.

You can use both hands to count the number of rappers who currently would rather spit bars on the microphone than live behind them. We have ten fingers, so let’s count 10 notable rappers who are currently incarcerated.

In no particular order, YNW Melly, YFN Lucci, Pooh Shiesty, Casanova, Tay-K, Q Money, Hoodrich Pablo Juan, RondoNumbaNine and Fam Goon Ralo are all locked up. This is just the list we have accumulated. With more research, we could easily expand this list.

Tay K
casanova jail
yfn lucci prison
YFN Lucci

From Gen X to Gen Z, nearly every era of hip-hop has seen its share of rappers run into legal battles with the law. The justice system has never been hip-hop friendly.

In the late ’80s, Slick Rick made a five-year offer at the height of his career. Snoop Dogg signed to Death Row Records shortly before being acquitted of first degree murder in 1993.

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Snoop Dogg acquitted

Two years later, one of the most influential rappers of all time, Tupac Shakur, served eight months in prison for sexual abuse.

In 2001, Bad Boy artist Shyne Po went to prison for 10 years for his involvement in a nightclub shooting. In 2009, Lil Wayne sat on Rikers Island for two years for possessing an illegal firearm.

Meek Mill was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment for jumping the wheels in 2017. He had to serve five months of his two- to four-year sentence. Meek Mill, 34, has been battling the justice system since he was 19.

This recurring story of the American criminal justice system resenting rappers, who are mostly black, is a reflection of the cruel history of relations between the American government and the black community.

Black history in the United States is well known for being tied to violent, unjust, and biased treatment against people of color. Slavery, segregation, and a broken economic infrastructure, including the prison system, all worked to impede the advancement of black people.

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People of color have been denied civil rights and freedoms. Blacks were socially discriminated against and struggled to advance financially.

If black people didn’t suffer from these living conditions, there wouldn’t be any need to listen to Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.” Unfortunately, POC suffered, but they took the fight and expressed it through sound. As a result, the birth of Hip-Hop.

In the late 70s, when the genre was born, the artist primarily used music as a rhythmic medium to not only entertain and uplift people, but also to lyrically protest problematic issues plaguing black communities. low income.

After the civil rights movement, hip-hop emerged as a united voice for issues such as poverty, racism, inequality, criminal justice, police brutality, and anything that oppressed black communities.

As the black artist protested nonviolently with lyrics, the US government expanded its prison industrial complex. The prison system is an industrial sector, just as slavery was considered an agricultural and labor activity.

The evolution of hip-hop occurred simultaneously with the mass incarceration of people of color in the American prison system. Is the parallelism of this phenomenon fortuitous or is it systematic? We’re not here to determine that, but let me leave you with some facts.

According to a 2012 Death Penalty Information Center report, there have been at least 1,276 executions in the United States since 1976. There are approximately 3,251 inmates on death row, and black people make up 42% of those inmates (Death Penalty Information Center, 2011). This statistic is quite disproportionate because African-Americans then represented only 9.7% of the population.

Again, is this systematic or fortuitous? Is the unpopular opinion that rappers are the target of the American criminal justice system true? We’re uncertain either way, but if rappers aren’t targeted, many easily become targets.

Many artists have strayed from reciting the same unhealed stories of civil struggles. They became more aggressive with their approach, and the music went from peaceful to painful.

The emergence of rap music gradually made Hip-Hop more dangerous. The kumbaya rap era ended and moved to “Wa da da dang Wa da da da dang (Ay!) Listen to my 9 millimeter go bang!”

Unfortunately, this created a new parallel.

The rise in violent music has increased the popularity of hip-hop. Rappers became cultural icons and their unruly substance made everyone want to listen to rap. In 2017, hip-hop officially became the number one music genre in America, and all eyes were on the culture. It put culture under a microscope, or better yet, put culture on social media.

Artists should be able to use technology and use social media as a promotional tool. Instead, we’ve seen more than a few rappers expose and document their alleged involvement in online criminal activity.

rappers in jail
Tekashi 69 YNW Melly

The culture began to see more glorification of street life, increasing criminal activity, and dismissive attitudes toward the law. New-age rappers apparently enjoy flaunting their rebellious demeanor. Coincidentally, the feds love it too. It makes their job easier.

The Hip-Hop community fed up with the Hip-Hop police and the blatant discrimination rappers face from the criminal justice system has decided to take action.

In an effort to protect rappers’ artistic freedom, Jay-Z has teamed up with other powerful hip-hop leaders to push “Rap Music on Trial” (S.7527/A.8681)

“Rap Music on Trial” is a proposal for a new law in New York that will prevent the lyrics from being used on trial. The bill was drafted by Democratic Senator Brad Hoylman, Jamaal Bailey and Catalina Cruz.

Jay-Z’s attorney, Alex Spiro, and Professor Erik Nielson of the University of Richmond co-wrote a letter to New York lawmakers in support of the bill’s approval.

The bill seeks to limit the admissibility of an artist’s lyrics as evidence. Instead, prosecutors will have to find “clear and convincing” evidence that the lyrics are “literal, rather than figurative or fictitious.”

Hov as well as superstars such as Meek Mill, Big Sean, Fat Joe, Kelly Rowland, Yo Gotti, Killer Mike, Robin Thicke and many more have all addressed the letter.

New York rapper Fat Joe has said he is passionate about change and wants hip-hop to be treated fairly in the future.

“Our lyrics are a creative form of self-expression and entertainment – just like any other genre,” Fat Joe said. rolling stone. “We want our words to be recognized as art rather than being weaponized to get convictions in court. I hope the Governor and all New York lawmakers will consider our letter, protect our artistic rights, and make the right decision to pass this bill.

In 2017, late South Central rapper Drakeo the Ruler spent three years in Los Angeles County Jail after the content of his songs and videos were used to prosecute him.

Drakeo the Sovereign stabbed to death during a festival appearance
Drakeo the Sovereign

“They rap about their crimes,” prosecutor Shannon Cooley said. Detective Hardiman agreed and told the court he used “the best crime-fighting tools on earth – Google and social media”.

Hardiman quoted Drakeo’s lyrics where he allegedly talked about driving with a rival rapper “tied up behind your back.”

The judge charged Drakeo with multiple crimes. The charges included murder, conspiracy to murder, criminal gang conspiracy, shooting from a vehicle, unlawful possession of a firearm and a number of other charges. He risked a life sentence.

In 2020, Drakeo accepted a plea deal which helped acquit his murder charges. His lawyer, John Hamasaki, spoke about the judges’ initial decision to prosecute his client.

“It really doesn’t make sense, logically, from a criminal justice perspective,” Hamasaki said. “Their main crime was making music, videos and raps. And those raps were offensive to the [lead] detective.”

Erik Nielson, is the co-author of a book on discrimination in Hip-Hop, Rap on trial; Race, Words and Guilt in America. Nielson said he has identified more than 500 total cases since 1991 in which the rap was used as evidence.

“Police rely on rappers’ music because it’s easy to watch YouTube videos and it’s often effective,” Nielson explained. “You don’t have to do police work and you get convictions. It is very easy to attribute crimes to people who were not involved.

Hip-Hop is aware of this biased behavior of the American criminal justice system and is taking steps to change it. Your bars should in no way lead you to a life behind them.

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