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Killer Mike Pens Powerful Op-Ed on Rap Music’s Negative Stigma

"No other fictional form — musical, literary or cinematic — is used this way"

A week after delivering a powerful speech in St. Louis in response to the Ferguson grand jury ruling, Killer Mike has co-penned an op-ed in USA Today titled “Rap’s poetic (In)justice.” Written alongside University of Richmond assistant professor Erik Nielson, the article hones in on the recent case of Elonis v. U.S. — scheduled to hit the Supreme Court this month — in which 27-year-old Anthony Elonis was sentenced to 44 months in prison for posting a series of violent rap lyrics to Facebook under a psuedonym.

The verdict, they argue, “raises major concerns about the role of art and free speech in the justice system, as well as the commonly-held view that hip-hop culture is a threat to society.” The Run the Jewels rapper and Nielson delve in further below: 

As recent research has revealed, rap lyrics have been introduced as evidence of a defendant’s criminal behavior in hundreds of cases nationwide, frequently leading to convictions that are based on prosecutors’ blatant mischaracterizations of the genre. Ignoring many of the elements that signal rap as form of artistic expression, such as rappers’ use of stage names or their frequent use of metaphor and hyperbole, prosecutors will present rap as literal autobiography. In effect, they ask jurors to suspend the distinction between author and narrator, reality and fiction, to secure guilty verdicts.

The authors continue:

No other fictional form — musical, literary or cinematic — is used this way in the courts, a concerning double standard that research suggests is rooted, at least in part, in stereotypes about the people of color primarily associated with rap music, as well as the misconception that hip-hop and the artists behind it are dangerous.

In fact, the history of hip-hop tells a very different story. In its formative years, for example, it was explicitly conceived by many as an alternative to the violent gang culture that consumed cities like New York. Since then, it has offered countless young men and women opportunities to escape the poverty and violence in America’s urban centers. As rapper Ice T once put it, “If I hadn’t had a chance to rap, I’d either be dead or in jail.”

Read the entire op-ed here.

UPDATE: Killer Mike appeared on CNN this afternoon, where he spoke to Brooke Baldwin about his emotional reaction to Ferguson, his recent St. Louis speech, and more. The segment also confirmed that he’ll be teaching at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, next year. Watch here.