Rap on Trial
A groundbreaking exposé about the alarming use of rap lyrics as criminal evidence to convict and incarcerate young men of colorShould 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.

Rap on Trial Details

TitleRap on Trial
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseNov 12th, 2019
PublisherThe New Press
ISBN-139781620973400
Rating
GenreMusic, Nonfiction, Politics, Mystery, Crime

Rap on Trial Review

  • Chava
    January 1, 1970
    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 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 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 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." This synopsis perfectly encapsulates the injustice you gain to learn about from reading this book.This book provides analysis of this practice, including how prosecutors have found loopholes to rules prohibiting the use of an art form to characterize defendants. It was an enlightening but infuriating read. I highly recommend this book, but caution you that you may come away with extremely high-blood pressure afterwards.Thank you to Erik Nielson, Andrea Dennis, The New Press, and NetGalley for allowing me access to an electronic advanced reader copy of this book for me to read and review. As always, all opinions are my own.
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  • Marin Gamboa
    January 1, 1970
    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 an indication of a faulty character. Artistic expression should not used in court proceedings to indicate bad character, even if offered for motive, intent, or knowledge. My favorite part of the book are the solutions it proposes for combating the use of an art form to characterize defendants as 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 an indication of a faulty character. Artistic expression should not used in court proceedings to indicate bad character, even if offered for motive, intent, or knowledge. My favorite part of the book are the solutions it proposes for combating the use of an art form to characterize defendants as evil and violent. The gatekeepers should check for the evidence once presented at the gate; and I believe that this is the best solution, informing judges about the prejudicial nature of rap lyrics and how they have very little probative value. There are existing mechanisms to prevent rap lyrics from getting to trial, but judges aren't doing their job. Whether their failure comes from ignorance or prejudice is a judge-by-judge determination; but judges need to be educated in this topic all the same. Absent the rectification of judicial oversight, legislation to protect rap lyrics is a good alternative solution. This isn't my favorite solution, but at the same time this solution is proposed SPECIFICALLY because of a lack of proper judicial oversight. This book is a fantastic information piece, and in the interest of justice it should be widely read and distributed.
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  • Wes Taylor
    January 1, 1970
    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 threats or confessions in ways that Johnny Cash's lyric, "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die," never would be. The book should be of interest to those concerned about artistic freedom, racial justice, or mass incarceration -- or who just like rap music. It promises to be one of the most 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 threats or confessions in ways that Johnny Cash's lyric, "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die," never would be. The book should be of interest to those concerned about artistic freedom, racial justice, or mass incarceration -- or who just like rap music. It promises to be one of the most important books of the year.
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  • Cristie Underwood
    January 1, 1970
    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.
  • Samson
    January 1, 1970
    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 everywhere and that young men (most of them black/Latino) are being thrown in prison because of their songs. After all of the recent books that have exposed the (in)justice system for what it is, maybe I shouldn't be surprised, but I repeatedly found myself shocked at how blatantly unfair, and devious, 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 everywhere and that young men (most of them black/Latino) are being thrown in prison because of their songs. After all of the recent books that have exposed the (in)justice system for what it is, maybe I shouldn't be surprised, but I repeatedly found myself shocked at how blatantly unfair, and devious, this is. This book is well researched but includes many individual stories that make it hard to put down. Definitely recommend. Also, Killer Mike wrote the Foreword, so that's reason enough to give it a look :)
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  • Sarah
    January 1, 1970
    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 read or want to believe but it is what is going on in our country and it has been for a long time. I fell in love with Gangster Rap when I was a young girl in Sunday School and the teacher told us if we listened to that music we would go to hell. I hated Sunday School so I figured I was already on my 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 read or want to believe but it is what is going on in our country and it has been for a long time. I fell in love with Gangster Rap when I was a young girl in Sunday School and the teacher told us if we listened to that music we would go to hell. I hated Sunday School so I figured I was already on my way there so I talked my mom into taking my to the record store and I bought some N.W.A., Public Enemy and anything else I could find with that “bad lyrics” sticker on it. I was hooked. A young white girl from the country blasting rap music got some strange looks so I could just imagine how life was for the men and women who get targeted for their music taste.Just reading this book makes me so mad on so many levels. As a former journalist I hate how people freedom of speech is violated in so many cases this book talks about. It makes me sick that no one sees how stupid they are for using music as a way to convict men of crimes. It makes me wonder when the day will come when an actor or an author will be jailed for what they have done? Has society become that narrow minded that they can’t see beyond someone’s music taste?This book is a book that should be read by all jurors in big cities who sit on trials that may have a case that will get introduced rap into it. Society should be educated about and how weak and flawed it is. I was not aware how often rap was put on trial until I read this book. I knew they tried to bane it. Education is the key and this book is a great start.Rap on Trial gets four out of five stars from me.
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  • Kelly Tarr
    January 1, 1970
    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 in order to prove guilt, provide evidence of gang affiliation, and negatively characterize defendants. Much of the book was compelling and interesting, but use of unsubstantiated blanket statements and biased language made the book seem nonobjective. While some of the case studies presented 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 in order to prove guilt, provide evidence of gang affiliation, and negatively characterize defendants. Much of the book was compelling and interesting, but use of unsubstantiated blanket statements and biased language made the book seem nonobjective. While some of the case studies presented strongly support the claims of the book, the plural of anecdote is not data. The heavy reliance on individual cases makes the book more readable and accessible, but the briefness of each leaves the reader wondering what was left out - while the authors dislike how prosecutors control and present the narrative of a case to a jury, the authors are doing the same thing here. Rap lyrics do present a unique problem in the courts; while they are artistic expression, filled with hyperbole and exaggeration, they are often presented as real by the artists themselves. How are police, lawyers, judges and juries supposed to decide what is real and what is not? The authors offer a variety of solutions to the problem - some realistic (more qualified experts to educate juries as they weigh evidence, better enforcement of existing rules of acceptable evidence) and some less realistic (jury nullification, special exclusionary rules for rap lyrics). Overall an interesting, if biased, book about an important topic.
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  • Dana
    January 1, 1970
    “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 further evidence of the vast differences in the way black people, especially young black men, are treated as opposed to white men-especially within the judicial system. Sadly, the conclusions in this book didn’t surprise me in the least. I am a bit surprised that the ACLU hasn’t taken up any of the cases cited “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 further evidence of the vast differences in the way black people, especially young black men, are treated as opposed to white men-especially within the judicial system. Sadly, the conclusions in this book didn’t surprise me in the least. I am a bit surprised that the ACLU hasn’t taken up any of the cases cited (at least it wasn’t mentioned). That rap lyrics are used to cause bias against the defendants is undeniable, and seems a clear violation of their rights. It’s important to know and understand how and why these differences exist so we can find a way to enact change. Well worth the read.
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  • Chelsey Keathley-Jones
    January 1, 1970
    I wanted to give this four stars because the content is so important. I really feel that people need to be reading this book, especially young black men. Society isn't fair and what you are posting online will be used against you. However, I felt the author repeated himself a bit much. He was trying to pound in the important stuff but it was repetitive. The book is well researched and I think the real cases with names will help people understand that this is really happening. I will be I wanted to give this four stars because the content is so important. I really feel that people need to be reading this book, especially young black men. Society isn't fair and what you are posting online will be used against you. However, I felt the author repeated himself a bit much. He was trying to pound in the important stuff but it was repetitive. The book is well researched and I think the real cases with names will help people understand that this is really happening. I will be recommending this book!I would like to thank Netgalley and the author for providing me a copy of this book for review.
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  • Lindsay
    January 1, 1970
    I won this book in a GoodReads giveaway. It was quick yet eye-opening read. It gives the reader a brief history of rap and how society has used its lyrics to incarcerate people, particularly people of color. I was aware of the need for criminal justice reform, however I had no idea that rap was being used to unfairly prosecute people. This book highlights the fact that rap is art, just like any other medium and it shouldn't be used against people.
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