Rap lyrics are turning up as evidence in courtrooms across the country with alarming regularity. As I argue in “Rap on Trial,” rather than treat rap music as an art form whose primary purpose is to entertain, prosecutors have become adept at convincing judges and juries alike that the lyrics are either autobiographical confessions of illegal behavior or evidence of defendant’s knowledge, motive or identity with respect to the alleged crime. Yet putting rap on trial has significant implications for how we define creative expression as well as for free speech and the right of all Americans to receive a fair trial. This website is dedicated to bringing attention to this practice and to providing resources for those seeking information about these cases.
Rap on Trial Legal Guide
This guide, co-authored by Jack Lerner and Charis Kubrin, is a comprehensive resource for attorneys dealing with rap lyrics introduced at any stage of criminal proceedings — from initial discovery to trial to sentencing. The guide includes explanations of common rap conventions that may be unfamiliar to lawyers and jurors, an overview of empirical research on rap and bias, legal grounds for evidentiary and First Amendment challenges to admitting lyrics into trial, and suggestions for jury selection. We also provide a collection of cases involving rap lyrics and a set of relevant court briefs.