Should Lyrics Be Used To Convict Rappers? Megan Thee Stallion And Jack Harlow Want It To Stop

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Should lyrics be used as evidence to convict musicians of a crime or even used as a justification to stop them performing?

It’s a question we’ve seen faced by local drill groups like OneFour here in New South Wales but artists in the US are experiencing this question in its full form as lyrics are being used as evidence to convict and incarcerate them.

Atlanta rapper Young Thug is currently incarcerated in a county jail in Georgia on an organised-crime charge.

The sentence was handed down off the back of his lyrics being used as evidence and it’s been one of the many embers that’s sparked an open letter to try put an end to it happening in courtrooms across America.

Professor Murray Lee from the University of Sydney has been researching the ways musicians, with a focus on OneFour, have had lyrics transform into tools to indict and criminalise.

“We’ve seen a number of young rappers get quite long prison terms partly based on evidence used from their lyrics that have been found in their house,” Lee told Junkee.

“Songs that have never been released that police have been led to, or have found in some kind of search have been used as evidence and in some cases, seems to be the main reason for a successful prosecution.”

The open letter called ‘Art On Trial: Protect Black Art’ has been signed by artists like Megan Thee Stallion, Jack Harlow and Alicia Keys, and has the support of major record labels like Sony, Universal and Warner.

The letter was written by Warner and published in The New York Times, and asks prosecutors to end the racially discriminatory practice of “treating rap lyrics as confessions.”

It also states that “rappers are storytellers, creating entire worlds populated with complex characters who can play the hero and the villain”.


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Tech companies like Spotify, YouTube Music and TikTok have also thrown their support behind the letter.

Earlier this year the NSW Police requested streaming platforms such as Youtube Music and TikTok to remove OneFour’s music from their platforms under the assertion that drill music has the penchant to inflame violence in Sydney’s Western suburbs.

Whether the global arms of these streaming platforms signing the letter will impact the NSW Police’s case to have drill music removed in Australia is yet to be seen.

In a statement provided to Junkee, NSW Police said that they have “previously drawn correlation between lyrics and actual criminal offences, but do not suggest it would be sufficient information on its own to put a matter before the court”.

“That said, just as police do not tolerate public acts of violence, they also won’t tolerate any behaviour that clearly incites and provokes retribution and other violent behaviour in NSW,” a NSW Police spokesperson told Junkee.

At the heart of this debate what we need to ask is who are we giving permission to fictionalise in music?

For example, country music has a legacy of lyrics detailing accounts and domestic violence, and yet country music artists are not being put in front of judges at the same rate of artists creating music in genres like rap or drill.

“I think the music industry has a role to play here, and I think they’ve been late coming on board,” said Lee.

“I think what we probably need is to get to a point where there is a sort of critical mass, to really sort of push back at the local level. I think it probably has potential further ramifications to legitimise and move the police on from this dogged pursuit of rappers for their lyrics.”

Once this ‘critical mass’ Lee speaks of is established, hopefully there will be a shift and enforcements will not see lyrics as pieces of evidence but as artistic expression.