RAP ON TRIAL: IS IT A CRIME TO RHYME?

Support our research, and help us fight injustice.

“Rather than treat rap as a form of artistic expression, prosecutors argue that the lyrics are either autobiographical confessions of crime or evidence of a defendant’s criminal motive. Our research, as well as our experience as expert witnesses in such trials, suggests that rap lyrics are of questionable evidentiary value and that their use in court can result in unfair prejudice.” — Charis E. Kubrin, Ph.D., professor, Department of Criminology, Law and Society, UC Irvine

Should Your Art Send You to Prison?

Rap lyrics are increasingly turning up as evidence in courtrooms across the country – a concern I have publicized in op-eds, media interviews, public outreach talks and in my paper “Rap on Trial.”

We argue that the fictional characters portrayed in violent gansta rap songs are often a far cry from the true personalities of the artists behind them, yet uninitiated audiences easily conflate artist with character and fiction with fact – a tendency that prosecutors are taking advantage of in criminal trials and other legal proceedings. Other forms of fictional expression are not exploited this way.

On a broader scale, using rap lyrics as evidence in criminal cases also raises questions about artistic freedom, freedom of speech and the rights of all citizens to receive a fair trial. I explored these issues in my 2014 TEDxOrangeCoast talk, “The Threatening Nature of … Rap Music?”

“For me, the tipping point will arrive when we admit as a country that we are still playing out old racial stereotypes. Then, and only then, will we begin to heal from our collective and historical wounds. — Charis E. Kubrin, 2014 TEDxOrangeCoast talk, “The Threatening Nature of … Rap Music?”

How Our Research Will Fight Injustice

Attorneys frequently contact us for research on the implications of using rap lyrics as evidence, in large part to ensure that their clients’ First Amendment rights are protected. Currently, there are only two studies on this issue, and they are both outdated.

To address these concerns, my colleagues and I at the University of California, Irvine are planning to conduct a series of experiments that test how rap lyrics impact decision-making. We will also determine the implications of our findings for the courtroom.

How You Can Help
Your generous contribution will provide us with the necessary resources and assistance to carry out this research. Donations will go toward compensating research participants, funding a student research assistant to help carry out the studies, and conducting workshops for attorneys to educate them on the findings.

Our goal is to raise $2,000 for each experiment or a total of $6,000 for all three experiments.

Experiment 1:

Testing Stereotypes about Rap Music

Our first experiment will test how people use stereotypes about rap music to evaluate both the threatening nature of violent lyrics and the artists who write them. We will compare evaluations of violent lyrics labeled as rap with evaluations of the same lyrics labeled as country, rock, punk and heavy metal to determine whether the evaluations differ along a series of dimensions, such as whether participants believe the lyrics are autobiographical and whether they think the lyrics should be regulated. This experiment will help us understand the impact of rap stereotypes on evaluations of threatening speech.

$250 $500 $1000 Other


Experiment 2:

Assessing the Prejudicial Impact of Rap Lyrics Used as Evidence

When attorneys offer rap lyrics as evidence in criminal trials, how do these lyrics influence the ways that people evaluate other, more traditional and logically independent forms of evidence? By examining this issue, this experiment will help us understand whether including rap lyrics in a criminal trial may bias jurors’ evaluations of the entire case and have a prejudicial impact on the trial.

$250 $500 $1000 Other


Experiment 3:

Exploring Relations between Race and Rap in Criminal Cases

This experiment will focus on whether any prejudicial impact of including rap lyrics as evidence relates to the music genre itself (rap), the race of the artist (African American), or some combination of the two. By examining the relationship between the race of a suspect and the evaluation of a criminal case where rap lyrics are introduced, this experiment will explore how putting rap on trial contributes to racial disparities in sentencing and incarceration.

$250 $500 $1000 Other


Experiments: Breakdown by Participants

Your sponsorship of participants will give the experiment results more validity, greater confidence in the results and deeper understanding of the issues.

$20

Funds 10 participants

$50

Funds 25 participants

$100

Funds 50 participants

Give Now

Charis E. Kubrin, Ph.D

Charis E. Kubrin, Ph.D
ckubrin@uci.edu
UCI Social Ecology

Bio

Charis E. Kubrin, Ph.D., professor of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of California, Irvine, researches and teaches about crime and justice. In addition to publishing five books and dozens of journal articles, she is a frequent media contributor whose writing has been featured in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Forbes, CNN.com, Seattle Post Intelligencer, Orange County Register and American Banker. She has received many awards, including the Ruth Shonle Cavan Young Scholar Award from the American Society of Criminology, a national award given to recognize “outstanding scholarly contributions to the discipline of criminology.”

See also "UC Irvine Hip-Hop Professor Seeks Poetic Justice."

Adam Dunbar, Ph.D. candidate

Adam Dunbar, Ph.D. candidate
dunbara@uci.edu

Bio

Adam Dunbar is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of California, Irvine. He researches the intersection of psychology and the law, focusing specifically on racial disparities in the criminal justice system. In particular, he examines how legal fact finders evaluate evidence and the implications for racial injustice. His dissertation considers the cognitive biases associated with using rap lyrics as evidence in criminal trials. Adam has received numerous fellowships including a Criminology, Law and Society Professional Development Fellowship for his research and a UC-Irvine Pedagogical Fellowship for excellence in teaching.

Rap lyrics on trial

“Rap Lyrics on Trial”
(The New York Times)

Recent News

Our article: “Rap on Trial”
Race and Justice
Rap on Trial

Our top op-eds on this issue:
Rap Lyrics on Trial
(New York Times)

A New California Trend – Prosecuting Rap
(Los Angeles Times)

Rap Lyrics or True Threats? It’s Time for the High Court to Decide
(Forbes)

Will top court challenge prosecution of rap?
(CNN.com)

Top media coverage of this issue:
Legal Debate on Using Boastful Rap Lyrics as a Smoking Gun
(New York Times)

Should Rap Lyrics Be Allowed as Evidence in the Courtroom?
(CBS News)

The Rap Bias
(Orange Coast Magazine)

Rap Lyrics as Evidence
(NPR’s On the Media)

New Jersey Supreme Court to Decide If Rap Lyrics Can be Used as Evidence
(CBC Radio’s As It Happens)

Should Rap Lyrics Be Used As Criminal Evidence?
HuffPost Live


For additional ways to support Dr. Kubrin’s research, please contact:

Mickey Shaw
Director of Development
shawmm@uci.edu
949-824-1874

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