From The New Yorker:
This week, in a New York district court, one of music’s least sympathetic characters, the Brooklyn rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine, took the stand to testify against alleged members of the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods, the gang with which he associated himself. The rapper, whose real name is Daniel Hernandez, became a star witness, pointing out gang members who appeared in his music videos, explaining gang signs, and detailing the hierarchy of Nine Trey and its alleged leaders. At one point, prosecutors asked him about the lyrics for his hit song “GUMMO,” and whether the words included any threats against rivals. “It’s a song towards, like, somebody who I didn’t get along with,” the rapper said. “I don’t know. I thought it was cool at the time.”
It’s a cautionary tale; 6ix9ine’s outlandish antics rocketed his music up the charts, but he thought he needed street clout. His efforts to skirt one hip-hop faux pas—being a poser—crash-landed him into another: snitching. And, in doing so, he had to confirm what many had already figured out: nothing about his persona or his lyrics was authentic, which cast a light on the disconnect between the optics of hip-hop music and reality. The independent journalist Matthew Russell Lee reported on Twitter that 6ix9ine claimed he was never initiated into the gang, but he had an arrangement to “keep making hits and giving financial support,” and, in return, he got his “career, credibility, protection, all of the above.”
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The extraordinary confession of 6ix9ine comes on the heels of several trials involving high-profile rappers, such as those of the Texas rapper Tay-K, the Florida rapper YNW Melly, and the California rapper Drakeo the Ruler, where rap videos and lyrics have been introduced into the courtroom. Andrea Dennis, a professor at the University of Georgia School of Law and the co-author of the forthcoming book “Rap on Trial: Race, Lyrics, and Guilt in America,” described how law enforcement weaponizes rap lyrics to convict and incarcerate rappers, a legal assault that is unique to hip-hop. “We have searched widely, and, based on our research, rap is the only fictional art form treated this way,” she said. “No other musical genre and no other art is used in the same way or to the same extent.”
In April of 2017, the rapper Tay-K was under house arrest and awaiting trial, in Texas, for capital murder after his involvement in a 2016 robbery that left one person dead. He cut off his ankle monitor and fled the state, evading authorities for three months; he was arrested in New Jersey, in June, and brought to trial in July. The rapper’s music, particularly his single “The Race”—which, as its title suggests, was built around his status as a fugitive (and some otherwise cliché shit-talk)—was not really needed as evidence in the courtroom. Though he pleaded not guilty to the murder charge, Tay-K and his co-defendants had already taken deals that confirmed his role in the robbery. Nevertheless, during sentencing, prosecutors introduced the video and lyrics for “The Race,” along with the cover of his EP, #LivingLikeLarry, which depicts the then sixteen-year-old rapper holding a gun. The goal, it seems, was to dehumanize the rapper in the eyes of a jury through the use of his music.
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In many of these cases, an artist’s very participation in hip-hop is painted as a moral shortcoming that suggests a propensity for real-world violence and degeneracy. One Louisiana judge went so far as to tell the perpetually troubled rapper YoungBoy Never Broke Again, “Your genre has a lot to do with the mindset people have. Your genre has normalized violence.”
Link to the rest at The New Yorker