Negative perceptions of rap music and rappers threaten to sway juries in criminal trials.
In cases across the U.S., criminal investigators have been treating rap lyrics as confession evidence rather than as art or entertainment. The aspiring rappers’ lyrics – found on scraps of paper, in online rap videos, on Facebook posts and in other places – become courtroom evidence.
But a major concern is that negative stereotypes about rap music influence how jurors evaluate the lyrics and the people who write them. Jurors are allowed to examine lyrics for intent to commit a crime, but pervasive associations of rap with criminality mean they might consciously or unconsciously also use the lyrics to determine whether a defendant is the type of person who would commit a crime – even though the lyrics aren’t allowed to be used in that way.
Adam Dunbar, who is graduating with a PhD in Criminology, Law and Society, has studied the intricacies of how people perceive rap music – and how those perceptions result in rap music being a potentially discriminatory form of evidence in criminal trials. People bring a certain baggage, which is often racial, to their understanding of rap lyrics and rappers.