Dennis was the first to identify and thoroughly analyze the use of rap lyrics as criminal evidence. Her article explains how courts fail to recognize that rap music lyrics are art, instead interpreting lyrics as literal truth. More particularly, it reveals that courts fail to consider the commercialized nature of the rap music industry, artist claims of authenticity, and the use of poetic devices such as metaphor, boasting, perspective, and narrative. These deficiencies allow courts to admit artistic evidence that masquerades as real-life events, functions as impermissible character evidence, and unfairly prejudices jurors. To avoid these problems, she proposes that courts should determine the meaning of the lyrics from the artistic perspective of the defendant-lyricist as well as permit the defense to offer judges and jurors expert testimony respecting the composition of rap music lyrics.


Nielson coined the phrase “rap on trial.” His article offers historical context, demonstrating that although the widespread use of rap lyrics in criminal trials may be a relatively recent phenomenon, it resides within a long tradition of antagonism between the legal establishment and hip-hop culture, one that can be traced back to hip-hop’s earliest roots. Specific case examples are discussed, in order to illustrate the specific ways that prosecutors present the music to judges and juries, as well as to highlight the devastating effects it can have on defendants. He concludes by considering the elements of rap music that leave it vulnerable to judicial abuse and the artistic, racial, and legal ramifications of using this particular genre of music to put people in jail.


Seminal research article by research psychologist Dr. Stuart P. Fischoff demonstrating negative perceptions of rap artists.