Lyrics are art, not evidence

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Young Thug, one of this decade's most influential rap artists, was recently indicted in a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) case. 

The rapper, whose real name is Jeffery Williams, is currently in jail with fellow artists—including his YSL label-mate Gunna—after being accused by the Atlanta District Attorney (DA) of coordinating a criminal organization.

Fulton County DA Fani Willis insists the Williams’ gang, YSL, is guilty, and supposedly has concrete evidence to support this claim, including wiretaps of William alluding to the murder of gang rivals. However, Willis has received criticism for submitting Jeffery Williams’s rap lyrics as evidence in court. 

The use of lyrics as evidence has been scrutinized by many in the music industry, including Drake and Lil Uzi Vert. 

Record labels, too, have stood against the phenomenon; in a press release signed by Sony Music, Spotify, and other large corporations, Warner Music Group condemned the use of rap lyrics as evidence, and called for justice for artists being unfairly accused on the basis of their lyrics. 

No lyrics of any genre should be allowed in court, for a variety of reasons. 

First, this practice opens marginalized communities to discrimination in court.

Warner Music Group’s letter specifically focuses on the inequalities faced by rap artists and Black individuals, as there have been a disproportionate number of cases where lyrics were used against rap artists compared to non-rap artists. 

According to Warner Music Group’s research, rap lyrics have been used in trial for over 500 cases, compared to four cases where non-rap lyrics were used. 

Rap is predominantly perceived as music produced by Black artists and artists of colour, hence predisposing minority groups to biases in court. The disproportionate use of rap lyrics as evidence indicates a systemic problem that sees people of colour—and specifically Black people—discriminated against within the justice system. 

Second, music is an art form like any other, and therefore can’t be relied upon to accurately represent reality. Artists frequently fantasize and tell stories that don’t reflect their authentic lives—it’s their job. 

Due to the nature of the profession, it’s unfair to use artists’ work as evidence against them, especially when it forms the basis of a prosecutor’s argument.

We must respect artistic license. Lyrics being used as the sole piece of evidence is problematic and poor legal practice. Artists should be free to express themselves without fear of indictment. It’s unjust to use someone’s art as proof they committed a crime.

Everyone deserves a fair trial—the use of lyrics as evidence must be off the table. 

Dharmayu is a third-year Health Sciences student and The Journal’s Production Manager.

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