R.Recently, I was standing on a raised podium in a courtroom being cross-examined by a roomful of barristers. I was there as an “expert witness” in this case. The case involved a group of young black men in a small British city charged with conspiracy to possess firearms, mostly commenting on the extensive use of rap lyrics as evidence.
Local police officers have transcribed, translated, and interpreted songs and YouTube music videos, many of which were recorded and released more than five years before the alleged crimes. It argued that the sheer number of lyrics under review was not proof of wrongdoing. They were violent, perhaps not to everyone’s taste, and full of bravery and menace.
This experience is one of the many hours I’ve spent over the past two years as a witness in a criminal trial where social media and music content has been mined for evidence. Usually to demonstrate the guilt of a group of young black men. Telegram messages, along with music videos and lyrics, were used in a landmark Manchester incident last year, in which 10 black men were convicted of complicity in a violent conspiracy. This development should sound alarm bells about the direction British civil society is headed.
As a youth worker and writer, one of the most consistent elements of my professional life, which I recently began documenting in my newsletter ALL CITY, has been building dialogue with rapping young men. I’ve been doing check-ins on boys, analyzing lyrics scribbled on the back of exercise books, funding students to set up recording equipment at home during lockdown, student referral units, secondary schools , conducted a workshop on music culture at a youth club. all over the UK. During that time, I interviewed some of the UK’s most successful rappers, including his Dave, J Hus, Digga D and Ghetts.
Thus, I got a vantage point to take in the landscape of British rap and drill music. On the one hand, these genres have become the world’s dominant microeconomy, producing award-winning, chart-topping releases. . On the other hand, concerns about the perceived glorification of violence in lyrics and videos persist.
“Since its initial conception, the genre of hip-hop and its descendants has been a topic of chicken-and-egg debate,” I wrote in my first article on Drill six years ago. I further asked whether the violent lyrics honestly reflect social realities and thus serve the purpose of empowering the artists, or whether they reinforce and exacerbate the problems they describe. Probably somewhere in between.
Severe youth violence spiked in 2018, so much so that in the ensuing media frenzy, calls were raised to apply terrorism laws to train rappers. The London Metropolitan Police have applied a Criminal Conduct Order (CBO), the modern version of the Anti-Social Behavior Order (asbos), to anyone over the age of 14 who is suspected of belonging to a gang without the need for proof. It began issuing “gang injunctions” to young people. , disproportionately black musicians. They prohibited artists from performing or recording songs without permission.
The Met also began demanding the removal of the music video from YouTube. There is no evidence that doing so has helped curb the violence. Canceling the British training music was a PR stunt for the Tory administration trying to give the impression that it was firmly committed to crime.
These hardline stances have penetrated deep into the criminal justice system as the pandemic has focused public attention elsewhere. Police and prosecutors are now amassing rap lyrics and videos as evidence. Teenagers charged with crimes who may have scribbled overtly criminal lyrics onto their smartphones can suffer perverse consequences.
The lyrics are generally trusted even when other forensic evidence is lacking. For certain demographics of young men, investigators sat in front of YouTube, listened to lyrics and took screenshots of videos to flesh out arguments about the defendant’s bad character or gang members. That’s a dangerously wrong approach.
First, rap lyrics are clearly not literal. From the pioneering New York sound of the 1980s and his 1990s, to his radio clashes with UK grime sound systems and the Pirates throughout the 2000s, MC has long put lyricism into beats for performance and entertainment. I’ve been repeating. Although ostensibly violent, their language is generally an artistic expression, such as literature, mythology, and painting. A simulacrum of lived experience.
UK rap and drill music is no exception. But as these subgenres thrived in the influencer-driven social media economy, their lyrics have further blurred the lines between reality and virtual reality. Success may require playing the dirty game of shortening your audience’s attention span with deceptive, shock-and-fear tactics. Treating videos and lyrics like confessions shows a hasty lack of humility, nuance, and cultural sensitivity.
Yet I have seen police officers translate taunts about the rapper’s “opposition” (enemy) being stabbed as a first-person confession to committing the stabbing. Exaggerated bragging about firing a gun turns into an acknowledgment of actually owning and using one.
In the very rare cases where violent lyrics are clearly both literal and specific, the author’s involvement in actual wrongdoing can be credibly under criminal standards without compelling forensic evidence. It is virtually impossible to prove.
Second, rap lyrics are meant to be heard by listeners, not read off paper. Rappers invent slang and ad-libs, switch the tide, hit different time pockets, raise and lower their voices, cry and whisper, sing and talk, dominate and soften. Each recording can be a cleansing of negative emotions. It is also a moment of adolescent immature fun. But as soon as a rap is transcribed by someone else, its original purity fades. Having a police officer translate and interpret in everyone cuts them off completely from the root.
Third, the police process of scanning the internet for musical content before entering a page of lyrics and providing concrete commentary on vague pieces of musical evidence is dauntingly time consuming and costly to taxpayers. It must be a huge waste of resources funded by
Of course, there are also ramifications of criminalizing music for the wider society. It’s not a bad thing for young musicians to know the law, but it can force them to suppress their feelings of alienation and hide their experiences of violence by demonizing the only outlet for expression and creativity for many. makes things worse in the long run. .
Society and prosecutors must rethink. The lyrics should be banned as vital evidence of a crime. This is not about letting people off the hook, indulging in crime, or allowing horrific social media content to circulate. It is possible to be strict and critical about these things without being authoritarian.
We should expect better from our justice system. And we need to make sure that young people who otherwise have no voice are protected.