A just-published article at ABC News, a digital publication of the Australian Broadcasting Co., features Georgia Law Professor Andrea L. Dennis (right), who holds the law school’s John Byrd Martin Chair of Law.
The article poses this headline question: “Can violent rap lyrics be evidence of criminality or does the law misunderstand music’s biggest genre?” In seeking an answer, ABC music & pop culture reporter Paul Donoughue focuses on the new book Rap on Trial: Race, Lyrics, and Guilt in America (The New Press 2019), which Dennis, a criminal law expert, has coauthored with University of Richmond Liberal Arts Professor Erik Nielson.
The ABC article notes that the coauthors identified more than “500 cases in the US alone of rap lyrics being used in criminal trials, at times leading to inappropriate or wrongful convictions,” and continues:
“Few would say Johnny Cash’s famous lyric ‘I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die’ was evidence of the country singer’s murderous leanings, they write.
“‘It is quite clear to us that this [rap] is the only fictional art form that is used in this way,’ Professor Dennis said, adding that race was an essential factor in the story.
“There are very limited examples of it being appropriate, Professor Dennis said. For example, when a lyric accurately describes a specific crime.
“‘Usually, what’s happening is the lyrics are somewhat generic — talking about general crime or very common types of behaviour that almost any rap artist might talk about,’ she said.”
Donoghue further compares the U.S. situation to that in Australia, where speech protections are less strong but where no similar prosecution has yet taken place.