Over the last three decades, as rap music's popularity has exploded, police and prosecutors saw an opportunity: they could present the sometimes violent, crime-laden lyrics of amateur rappers as confessions to crimes, threats of violence, or revelations of criminal motive—and judges and juries would go along with it. They’ve reopened cold cases, alleged gang activities, charged serious crimes, and secured convictions by presenting the lyrics and videos of rappers as autobiography. Now, an alarming number of aspiring rappers are imprisoned, some for life. Others face the death penalty. No other form of creative expression is treated this way in the courts.
Rap on Trial places this disturbing practice in the context of hip hop history and exposes what’s at stake in the criminal justice system.