Nabil Yousfi


Whichever way you spin the record, rap music and courtrooms don’t mix. On one side, rap records are well known for their unapologetic lyrical composition, often expressing a blatant disregard for legal institutions and authorities. On the other, court records reflect a Van Gogh’s ear for rap music, frequently allowing rap lyrics—but not similar lyrics from other genres—to be used as criminal evidence against the defendants who authored them. Over the last thirty years, this immiscibility has engendered a legal landscape where prosecutors wield rap lyrics as potent instruments for criminal prosecution. In such cases, color-blind courts neglect that rap is a genre originating from and predominantly performed by Black musicians, hence becoming complicit in catalyzing this targeted weaponization of rap music, chilling Black artistic expression, and effectively stripping the genre of its creative license.

Though hardly a novel challenge for rap artists, the pending criminal conspiracy case against Jeffrey Williams, professionally known as Young Thug, prompts a renewed sense of urgency in drawing a bright line between fictional rap lyrics and probative criminal evidence. Building from notable scholarship in this field, this Note situates the law’s disproportionate maltreatment of rap music within the broader canvas of systemic racism to propose avenues for how the law may evolve to accommodate the persistent intersections between rap music and the judicial system. By delineating clear parameters for the admissibility of rap lyrics as evidence to address troubling bias in juror perceptions, this framework seeks to find a balance between protecting Black artistic expression and preserving the integrity of criminal proceedings.

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