The New York Times reports that Meek Mill, Chance the Rapper, 21 Savage, and other famous rappers filed a brief in the Supreme Court on Wednesday to help overturn the conviction of Pittsburgh rapper Jamal Knox (a.k.a. Mayhem Mal), who is serving a prison sentence for allegedly threatening the police in one of his songs.
According to the piece, Knox was arrested in 2012 on gun and drug charges. Following that incident, he and a friend recorded the single “Fuck the Police” where they called out the arresting police officers that were sent to testify against him. On the track, they spit, “Let’s kill these cops ’cause they don’t do us no good.” After the song debuted on YouTube and Facebook, Knox was charged with issuing terroristic threats and intimidating witnesses and then jailed in 2014. Knox argues that he was putting on a persona in the song.
The rapper’s lawyers are currently petitioning the Supreme Court to review the case, stating, “The song’s lyrics were never meant to be read as bare text on a page. Rather, the lyrics were meant to be heard, with music, melody, rhythm and emotion.”
In the brief filed by Meek Mill, Chance the Rapper, 21 Savage, Killer Mike, and others, the rappers state that the court is “deeply unaware” of rap and hip-hop music. “A person unfamiliar with what today is the nation’s most dominant musical genre or one who hears music through the auditory lens of older genres such as jazz, country or symphony may mistakenly interpret a rap song as a true threat of violence,” they wrote. The brief was also written by several scholars, and also included an explanation of “diss tracks,” described as “recorded songs in which rappers insult, or ‘diss,’ one another.”
“In short, this is a work of poetry,” the rappers continued in the brief. “It is told from the perspective of two invented characters in the style of rap music, which is (in)famous for its exaggerated, sometimes violent rhetoric, and which uses language in a variety of complex ways. It is not intended to be taken literally, something that a reasonable listener with even a casual knowledge of rap would understand.”
One of Knox’s lawyers, R. Stanton Jones, also told the New York Times that black men like Knox are “almost always targeted in these cases” unlike rappers who are white or more popular. He adds, “While famous rappers like Eminem win Grammy Awards and make millions off the violent imagery in their songs, judges and juries are routinely convinced that lesser-known rap artists are somehow living out their lyrics as rhymed autobiography. It’s an alarming trend, often with devastating consequences for the young men of color who are almost always targeted in these cases.”