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  • Writer's pictureSarena Townsend

Can Rap Lyrics Be Used As Evidence? A Legal Perspective

The recent criminal prosecution againstcase involving rapper Young Thug highlights a controversial issue in criminal trials: the use of rap lyrics as evidence against a defendant. Can seemingly violent or incriminating lyrics be used to prove the artist's real-life intent or actions? Let's examine the legal complexities involved.

The Case of Young Thug

Young Thug (Jeffery Williams) and other members of the YSL collective were indicted on RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) charges.

In the ongoing Atlanta, Georgia RICO case against rapper Young Thug, a judge has conditionally allowed prosecutors to introduce rap lyrics as evidence. Judge Ural Glanville ruled that 17 sets of lyrics mentioned in the indictment, including lines performed by Young Thug and his co-defendants, can be preliminarily admitted, if the prosecution meets certain requirements. This decision comes despite a motion by Young Thug's attorney to suppress the use of lyrics.

"I'm conditionally admitting those pending lyrics, depending upon – or subject to a foundation that is properly laid by the state or the proponent that seeks to admit that evidence

" Glanville said.

The judge stipulated that prosecutors must first establish a clear connection between the lyrics and the criminal allegations. They must also be prepared to present any additional lyrics for review prior to the trial's start later this month.

Young Thug's attorney, Brian Steel, strongly opposed the use of lyrics: "Lyrics are a form of artistic expression and should not be used as evidence of an individual's true state of mind." He also noted that not all lyrics performed by Young Thug were written by the artist.


Rap Lyrics: Artistic Expression or Incriminating Evidence?

  • Artistic Expression: Rap music, like other art forms, often uses exaggeration, metaphor, fictionalized personas, and provocative themes. It's essential to remember that creative expression shouldn't be automatically interpreted as literal truth.

  • Prejudicial Impact: Introducing rap lyrics as evidence can introduce significant bias. Jurors may unfairly link the artist's creative output with their character or propensity to commit crimes.

  • First Amendment Protections: The use of rap lyrics in court raises concerns about freedom of expression and artistic liberty.


When Can Lyrics Be Used as Evidence?

There are limited circumstances where rap lyrics might be considered relevant:

  • Clear Connection to the Crime: If lyrics very specifically describe a crime in a way that closely matches the details of the alleged offense, they may be deemed relevant.

  • Demonstrating Intent or Knowledge: In some cases, lyrics may be used to help establish a defendant's state of mind or knowledge of criminal activity.


The Importance of Expert Witnesses

Legal teams should consider utilizing expert witnesses who can:

  • Analyze the artistic conventions and language of rap music.

  • Explain concepts like hyperbole, the use of personas, and storytelling within the genre.

  • Contextualize the lyrics within the broader framework of artistic expression.


Protecting Artistic Freedom and Fair Trials Don't let your creative expression be used against you in court. Farber Schneider Ferrari LLP understands the legal complexities of cases involving rap lyrics and artistic expression. Our attorneys will develop a robust defense strategy to protect your rights and ensure a fair trial. 


Contact us today for a confidential consultation at 212-972-7040 or visit us online at We are conveniently located in Midtown Manhattan at 261 Madison Avenue, 26th Floor, New York, NY 10016. 


Disclaimer: This article provides general information and should not be construed as legal advice. Contact an attorney to discuss your specific questions and needs. 


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