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 Currently, there are only two studies on this issue, and they are both outdated.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Funds 10 participants
Funds 25 participants
Funds 50 participants