By Staff | Photographs by Hong Sar
For a documentary focusing on rap music and the law, starting the story reciting lyrics by 70s rock group “Queen” might be considered a curious choice.
But in “Rap Trap: Hip Hop on Trial,” will.i.am reads the iconic line — Mama, just killed a man setting the tone for the film released by ABC News Studios: that time and again, rap lyrics and rap artists have been scrutinized in ways others simply are not, sometimes resulting in costly and life-altering legal woes.
Simply put: No one ever accused Freddie Mercury of actually killing a guy, whereas prosecutors have used lyrics as evidence against rappers over the years to convince jurors of their guilt for alleged crimes like those they rap about.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis makes no apologies for pointing to Young Thug’s lyrics in service to her assertion that the rapper is part of Young Slime Life (YSL), a criminal organization prosecutors say he co-founded. YSL is also an acronym for Young Stoner Life — the rapper’s music label — which isn’t named in the indictment.
One Young Thug lyric prosecutors are using as evidence is already inspiring much discussion around the First Amendment and artists’ — not to mention everyone else’s — right to express themselves without fear of criminal prosecution.
I never killed anybody but I got something to do with that body
That Young Thug is such a major star, whose fame is global and permeates the mainstream, is especially chilling for many artists interviewed in “Rap Trap,” who come to his defense and that of the artform.
As rapper and producer Fat Joe laments: If they can lock up Young Thug, “they can lock up anybody.”
Whether that’s the case remains to be seen — the trial is expected to last several more months.
Carmen Gentile is founder and editor-at-large of Postindustrial. He has worked for some of the world’s leading publications and news outlets including The New York Times, USA Today, CBS News and others. His book, “Blindsided by the Taliban,” documents his life as a war reporter and the aftermath of his brush with death after being shot with a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan.
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