Rapper Accused of Killing Run-DMC Member Jam Master Jay Will Not Have Rap Lyrics Read at Trial
A federal judge in New York City ruled earlier this week that rap lyrics performed by Karl Jordan Jr, aka “Yadi” or “Young Yadi,” will not be admissible at his trial because they lack a “factual nexus” between the content of the lyrics and the accused conduct. The rapper is accused of conspiring to kill Jason “Jay” Mizell, or Jam Master Jay of the rap group Run-DMC, in 2002 with Ronald Washington over a dispute about a drug deal, shooting Jam Master Jay in the back of the head in a Queens recording studio. Prosecutors sought to introduce lyrics performed by the defendant by arguing that there was a direct correlation between the lyrics and the accused conduct, including lyrics in a song called “Aim for the Head” which include the line, “I aim for the head, I ain’t no body shooter.” However, United States District Judge LeShann DeArcy Hall pointed out that “Some of the themes of violence and criminality have become so prevalent within the genre that they have little, if any, probative value at trial” in her order and that there were possible first amendment issues at stake for artists who should be free to express themselves freely without fear that they will be used against them in legal proceedings. She referenced several famous artists and rappers who espouse certain conduct, while publicly distancing themselves from the conduct in their personal life, like the artist Future is publicly sober but continues to portray himself as a drug user in his music.
Inconsistency Across Country in Admission of Rap Lyrics
This case is not the first criminal proceeding to put rap or music lyrics at issue and draw public attention. Recently, the high-profile prosecution of the rapper “Young Thug” drew national attention after the judge found that his rap lyrics could “conditionally” be used as evidence at his trial where he is accused of RICO violations for his alleged ties to an Atlanta-based gang. A recent book co-authored by Professor Andrea Dennis found that there are at least 500 documented cases across the United States where rap lyrics have been admitted into evidence in a criminal trial, and studies have shown that there is a potential for bias in criminal proceedings when hypothetical jurors were shown violent rap lyrics by a purported defendant. Still, prosecutors and law enforcement defend their use at trials, including the prosecutor in Young Thug’s case who stated in a press conference, “I think if you decide to admit your crimes over a beat, I’m going to use it.” Contradictory rulings such as these highlighted cases are proof that there is no consistent standard for the admission of rap lyrics, and any artist who finds themselves having to defend against their art being used against them in a criminal trial needs to ensure they have experienced attorneys who can convince a judge to keep the lyrics of the courtroom. This isn’t just limited to rap lyrics; this also includes depictions of staged violence in rap music videos that prosecutors are attempting to use at various stages of criminal case proceedings such as a bond or detention hearing, trial, or sentencing.