Back in 2014, Jamal Knox, a rapper under the alias Mayhem Mal, was sentenced to 2-6 years in prison for issuing “terroristic threats and intimidating witnesses” stemming from a song titled “Fuck The Police” following an arrest for illegal gun and drug possession charges when he was 19. The case has made its way to the Supreme Court, as Knox’s lawyers feel his First Amendment rights are being violated.
A coalition of rappers headed by Killer Mike have filed a brief on behalf of Knox, as The New York Times reports (March 6), giving the Supreme Court justices a “primer” on the history of hip-hop and how to interpret certain lyrics and vernacular from the rap world. Other artists that offered up contributions to the brief include Chance The Rapper, 21 Savage, Meek Mill, Styles P, Fat Joe and Yo Gotti.
“Viewing the lyrics in their proper context is vital. Like all poets, rappers use figurative language, relying on a full range of literary devices such as simile and metaphor,” a portion of the brief reads. “Rappers also, in the tradition of African American vernacular, invent new words, invert the meaning of others, and lace their lyrics with dense slang and coded references that defy easy interpretation, especially among listeners unfamiliar with the genre.”
They added, “Furthermore, rappers famously rely on exaggeration and hyperbole as they craft the larger-than-life characters that have entertained fans (and offended critics) for decades.”
Read the brief in full here.