Rapper, adamant Bernie Sanders-supporter and civil rights activist Killer Mike has penned a new essay about free speech and rap music, defending the rights of an aspiring rapper who was suspended from high school over a song he wrote.
As the Run the Jewels rapper and University of Richmond professor and author Erik Nielson write in the piece for CNN, in a case that’s before the U.S. Supreme Court, a Mississippi high school failed to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct alleged against two staff members and instead took disciplinary action against a student for rapping about the allegations in an original song.
In 2010, several female students told a fellow student, Taylor Bell, that two of the school’s coaches were engaging in allegedly highly inappropriate sexual behavior. Taylor Bell put this in a song, identifying the coaches by name, lambasting their behavior, and posted the track to Facebook and YouTube. For this, he was forced to attend an “alternative” school for six weeks.
“Drawing on the long tradition of social protest in rap music, as well as the profane and violent rhetoric that is common to the genre, the song takes (metaphorical) aim at the coaches with phrases like “f***ing with the wrong one gon’ get a pistol down your mouth (Boww!),” Mike and Nielson write.
The op-ed goes on to explain that this thread was never treated as a serious one by the school administration, but still handled with aggressive censorship. The reason for this, they state, is that it was expressed through the medium of rap music.
“Rap, which grew out of black and Latino communities that were facing urban decay at its worst, has been contentious, sometimes polarizing, for as long as it has existed,” the op-ed states. “No doubt, this is in large part because of rappers’ willingness to confront institutions of power and openly defy social conventions with language that is provocative, even offensive, to some.”
This is not the first time Killer Mike and Nielson have together voiced an opinion against prosecution of rap artists over their lyrical content. In 2014, they penned an op-ed chronicling America’s many criminal trials in which rap lyrics have been used as evidence.
“Throughout those careers, none of their fans ever believed that Ice Cube would kill former Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates, that Eminem would kill his wife, Kim, or that Nas and Jay Z would kill each other — all claims the rappers made in their songs,” Mike and Neilson’s most recent says.
It continues, “But as we have noted before, rap is often denied that respect, particularly in the criminal justice system, where amateur rappers, almost always young men of color who lack the name recognition (and bank accounts) of their professional counterparts, are routinely prosecuted for their music, either because people believe that rap should be read literally or because they just don’t like it.”
The U.S. Supreme Court will have to agree to hear the case, Bell v. Itawamba County School Board.
If it does not hear it, the school board’s decision — which was upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in a divided opinion — will stand.
Read the full op-ed here.