Snoop Dogg is a national icon, doing commercials with Martha Stewart and idling on the beach with a cold brew. Even though Tupac and others are dead and Suge Knight is in long-term prison, Dr. Dre is a multi-millionaire, and Ice Cube is the very wealthy, and national folk-hero owner of the Three-on-Three basketball league and other entities.
Nevertheless, for all that cake icing, violent Black gang activity is far from dead and extinguished in America. Criminal investigators and prosecutors have worked hard to remind us of that fact, and one major and effective trend for them is to use the rap lyrics popularized in songs and concerts by both established and up-and-coming artists as an effective weapon in the attempt to decapitate growing youth violence in the U.S.
But there remains a major controversy in the use of such evidence. California, for example, recently passed a state law (AB 2799 The Decriminalization of Artistic Expression Act, 2022), banning the use by prosecutors in state criminal trials of rap lyrics emanating from artists put on trial for murder, mayhem or other violent acts. There is also pending federal legislation — The RAP Act (Restoring Artistic Protection Act), aimed at preventing the use of lyrics as the sole or primary basis to criminally prosecute cases. There is already a coterie of House Democratic champions for this effort, but the current Republican majority will have none of it, and it will not pass this legislative session, and quite possibly in no other one.
In other jurisdictions in the country, however, that trial practice is being expanded, not reduced or eliminated. Atlanta, Ga., for example, is now the center of such action, as Young Thug, a well-known Atlanta-based rapper, and others associated with YSL (Young Slime Life) are on trial for murder and violent gang activity, based principally on the lyrics from their recent rap albums.
Prosecutors say the album rap lyrics provide a roadmap to the violent gang activity that occurred after Young Thug’s record was publicly released. The Georgia state prosecutor (the same one investigating Donald Trump) and state law enforcement see such use as a major Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) weapon in ending the increasingly violent and deadly gang activity haunting areas like Metro Atlanta.
There may soon be another major migration of Black youth out of the South to California as a safe haven, but hopefully they will not reintroduce the violent gang warfare of the 1970s and 1980s back into the state in their wake.
Interestingly, for all its gnarlyness, Rap Music in American society has been relentlessly popular for over four decades. That is a major milestone and it is highly unusual in American culture. Most popular music styles have their brief heyday, then simply die or are pushed out by incoming musical tastes. Such was the fate of disco music, a worldwide style mainly of the 1970s. Rap, rock-rap combos, and power ballads eventually crushed the disco craze. Yet rap music 40 years in is still going strong.
And like many other public tastes that last beyond their expected expiration date, the genre has both reached new heights (a rapper, Kendrick Lamar, won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2018, a previously unthinkable achievement), and been blamed for the rise of a new or modernized malady in the U.S. (widespread gangsterism).
Rap on, brother. Rap on.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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