Clay Calvert

Jamal Knox allegedly threatened police officers with his music. Now the Supreme Court will decide his fate

Kendrick Lamar won a Pulitzer Prize last year and Eminem set a record in 2019 for streams on Spotify. But the acceptance and embrace of rap music in mainstream culture isn’t shared by everyone – and that sometimes includes the police.

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No, Courts Shouldn't Be Able to Use Defendants' Rap Lyrics As Evidence Against Them

If the Supreme Court of New Jersey's August 4 decision in New Jersey vs. Skinner is any indication, 2014 could prove to be the year when courts—including, perhaps, the U.S. Supreme Court—finally recognize rap as a form of artistic expression and social commentary in which hyperbolic lyrics, often filled with exaggeration and references to violence, typically are not meant to be taken literally. 

In Skinner, the Garden State's highest court held it was wrong for a trial judge to admit into evidence rap lyrics written by defendant Vonte Skinner in order to try to prove he was guilty of attempted murder. Prosecutors argued that "the lyrics helped to demonstrate [Skinner's] 'motive and intent' in connection with the offense because the rap lyrics addressed a street culture of violence and retribution that fit with the State's view of defendant's role in the attempted murder."

In rejecting this view, the Supreme Court of New Jersey wrote:

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