Rap on Trial: Race, Lyrics, and Guilt in America

Rap on Trial: Race, Lyrics, and Guilt in America

A groundbreaking exposé about the alarming use of rap lyrics as criminal evidence to convict and incarcerate young men of color

Should Johnny Cash have been charged with murder after he sang, “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”? Few would seriously subscribe to this notion of justice. Yet in 2001, a rapper named Mac whose music had gained national recognition was convicted of manslaughter after the prosecutor quoted liberally from his album Shell Shocked. Mac was sentenced to thirty years in prison, where he remains. And his case is just one of many nationwide.

Over the last three decades, as rap became increasingly popular, prosecutors saw an opportunity: they could present the sometimes violent, crime-laden lyrics of amateur rappers as confessions to crimes, threats of violence, or revelations of criminal motive—and judges and juries would go along with it. They’ve reopened cold cases, alleged gang affiliation, and secured convictions by presenting the lyrics and videos of rappers as autobiography. Now, an alarming number of aspiring rappers are imprisoned. No other form of creative expression is treated this way in the courts.

Rap on Trial places this disturbing prosecutorial practice in the context of hip-hop history and exposes what’s at stake. It’s a gripping, timely exploration at the crossroads of contemporary hip-hop and mass incarceration.

Title:Rap on Trial: Race, Lyrics, and Guilt in America
Edition Language:English
ISBN:9781620973400
Format Type:

    Rap on Trial: Race, Lyrics, and Guilt in America Reviews

  • Chava

    Erik Nielson's and Andrea Dennis's book Rap on Trial exposes the bias against people of color in the justice system through the lens of the music industry. As the publisher's synopsis states, "Should ...

  • Marin Gamboa

    Wonderfully insightful case study of a book. Highlighting how prosecutors get around the prohibition of offering rap lyrics as character evidence and how rap has been denigrated from a work of art to ...

  • Wes Taylor

    I was lucky enough to read an advance copy. This is an illuminating analysis of the widespread use by law enforcement of rap lyrics to prosecute young black and brown men. Rap lyrics are treated as th...

  • Celine

    I became obsessed with this little book. The exceptions carved out in law for rap/hip hop - so clearly an art form - are maddening. As if we needed any new evidence that courts are systematically bias...

  • Joheiv

    This book is very awesome....

  • Cristie Underwood

    The author's painstaking research and attention to detail is obvious in the writing of this book. The author laid out the information in a manner that allowed the reader to form their own opinion....

  • Sarah

    Thank you NetGalley for the ARC of Rap on Trial by Erik Nielson that I read and reviewed.This is on of those books that is a slap in the face of reality that a lot of people are not going to want to r...

  • Samson

    This book doesn't release for a few months, so I won't quote, but I did get an early copy, and it's unreal. I hope people will be as disturbed as I was to learn that "rap on trial" is happening everyw...

  • Kelly Tarr

    This book tackles an important and timely question; should rap lyrics be admissible in criminal court cases. The book asserts that rap lyrics are being used in criminal proceedings at an alarming rate...

  • Dana

    “Society trains people - potential jurors - to hold racist predispositions, conscious or unconscious, against young black men and against rap music evidence.”“Rap On Trial” demonstrates furthe...