"From Young Thug’s witness expert to a top London barrister, key members from Art Not Evidence have spoken about why we need to restrict the use of rap lyrics as evidence in court" – the NME reports about the important issues of freedom of speech and artistic liberties. "As of June 2023, over 240 people in the UK have been jailed after a court decision that was in part based on their involvement with rap music".

"I just think this whole idea of changing words and books because they make one uncomfortable or taking the rape scenes out of the 'Metamorphoses' — this is, to me, it’s not just dangerous. You start there, and where do you finish?" - Patti Smith talks about historical context of works of art in The Active Voice podcast. She also shares a few thoughts on cancel culture: "I’m always optimistic. I just refuse to be pessimistic. Pessimism breeds nothing. A pessimistic person does not create anything. A pessimistic person does not envision anything. It’s not that I feel pessimistic. I just feel that people are moving too quickly via social media, not examining everything in a cubistic way, not examining all the facets of things, not trying to understand how certain things fit in the context of the history that happened or when they happened."

Crime and punishment
February 22, 2023

Russia's music scene losing the war to state repression

"Since the war with Ukraine, dissenting Russian bands have been canceled en masse, including many of the scene's original founders. Bands who faced censorship, harassment and intimidation during the Soviet days are now experiencing the same thing some 40 years later" - Bandsplaning looks beyond the Russia-Ukraine frontline and into the ever-shrinking freedom of expression the Russian musicians are facing. Since the start of the war a year ago, according to one promoter, around 30% of Russian domestic performers left the country or stopped performing.

Guardian shares an important piece about a rap group P38-La Gang, that touches on the essential issue of freedom of speech. The Bologna-based band who go by the stage names Astore, Jimmy Pentothal, Dimitri and Yung Stalin, are between 25 and 33. They describe the idea behind the group as “very simple: creating a far-left and communist form of trap,” a counter-narrative to the “individualistic, gangsta-mafia and misogynistic” themes of Italian trap. On 25 November, the band members were identified by police and had their homes searched. They are currently under investigation by the Turin prosecutor’s office, accused of instigation to commit a crime, with an aggravating circumstance for terrorism. Their concerts are routinely cancelled, with venue managers fearing police reprisals. The band denies they're terrorists: "While the Italian music scene is overrun by very explicit references to rape, the trafficking of large-scale narcotics and mafia crimes in lyrics sung by the most listened-to artists, we are the ones being investigated because we refer to the Years of Lead.” (Social turmoil during the 1970s and 1980s when Red Brigades, the far-left terrorist group, shocked Italy with kidnappings, kneecappings and more than 80 political assassinations).

Sand in the eyes
January 24, 2023

Beyoncé divides fans with Dubai hotel live show

Beyoncé headlined the private concert in Dubai to mark the opening of the luxury hotel Atlantis The Royal last weekend, which was her first full concert in more than four years, BBC reports. Beyoncé reportedly received $24m for her performance. She performed 19 songs, but the show did not contain any material from Beyoncé’s 2022 album 'Renaissance', which is purported to be a love letter to Black and queer dance music pioneers and communities. Homosexuality is illegal in the United Arab Emirates and considered a crime punishable by death.

Freedom of breach
January 16, 2023

Ciaran Tharan: Unsilent witness

"Social media and online music content is being prejudicially mined for evidence in criminal trials" - Ciaran Thapar looks back at years of trials against young rappers, based on their lyrics. "Most older adults are still coming to terms with the mere existence of social media, let alone the mind-boggling speed of TikTok, the nuances of British rap or the respawning etymologies of slang. But these are the people overseeing the metaphorical guillotine that now hovers over a whole generation of lost youth. Young people who have grown up under a mounting cost-of-living crisis, cared for by public services — youth clubs, schools, the NHS, the judiciary itself – that have been gutted by austerity".

'Woman Life Freedom' is a song released by the Iranian-born Netherlands-based musician Sevdaliza which she wrote for "oppressed women around the world. I stand proud as an Iranian woman and I am supporting the fight of my sisters who shed their blood, hair, hearts and brains to give us all the hope, that one day, we will be free. At a young age I became aware of the systematic means of forcing women into obedience through violence and intimidation. To persuade women that their minds, bodies, and freedom do not belong to them. Our humanity demands we stand up against the oppression of women. Now. And forever. We must continue to speak up and fight institutions that condone oppression, violence and murder. We must face the people that deny the dignity and respect for all of us women. We are so tired of being told how to be, what to be".

Burning words
October 14, 2022

Jamaica bans music glorifying crime

Jamaica's broadcasting agency has banned music that "glorifies illegal activity" - such as drug and gun use, the BBC reports. The ban covers TV and radio and lists specific topics that are off-limits - scamming, drug abuse and the illegal use of firearms. Swearing or "near-sounding" replacements are also banned. Some artists who argue music is a reflection of life have criticized the ban.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act, which limits the ways an artist’s lyrics can be used against them as evidence in criminal cases, the LA Times reports. The bill establishes a presumption that lyrics have minimal value as evidence. It covers all forms of creative expression but is especially salient for hip-hop artists, whose slice-of-life lyrics have frequently been cited by prosecutors in criminal trials as proof of guilt. The bill has been championed by the hip-hop community, the music industry and free-speech advocates.

In May, rapper Young Thug and 27 other men associated with his YSL (Young Stoner Life) record label were arrested and charged with 56 counts of criminal activity. The indictment alleges they have committed crimes spanning murder, attempted murder, carjacking, robbery, possession of drugs and firearms, and witness intimidation. Essentially, prosecutors allege that Young Thug is the leader of a street gang. "The artist is at the centre of one of the biggest rap court cases in music history; a legal saga that has halted his career at its commercial peak and, with his lyrics being employed against him by prosecutors, reignited the debate around using art as evidence in court" - The Fa

Anything you rap can be used against you!
August 30, 2022

USA attorney to use rap lyrics as evidence

Atlanta’s top legal representative Fanni Willis said she has no plans to stop citing rap songs' lyrics in criminal indictments any time soon, Rolling Stone reports. “I think if you decide to admit your crimes over a beat, I’m going to use it... You do not get to commit crimes in my county, and then get to decide to brag on it, which you do that for a form of intimidation and to further the gain and to not be held responsible” - Willis said during a press conference for a criminal case that does use lyrics as evidence. Her statements come months after Young Thug and Gunna were arrested for allegedly violating the RICO Act. Young Thug's lyrics were cited heavily in his indictment.

Beyoncé and Lizzo amended their songs following criticism by fans on social media. The Face argues in favor of the (responsible) power of the people: "In the case of ​“sp*z” and derogatory terms in music, cultural customs (i.e. the use of problematic terms when ignorant) don’t necessarily align with the ​“right” and ​“justified” action in real time. Values change over time, and so does the context of certain words. It’s OK for artists to learn, like every flawed human on the planet. Evolution and dismantling harmful practices is something to be embraced and welcomed, not scrutinised. These days, artists are scanning social media for feedback and potential edit suggestions. Let’s hope the fans use their power responsibly".

Guardian shares a moving story about members of Iranian-Norwegian band Confess Nikan Khosravi and Arash Ilkhani who got arrested in 2015, and spent 18 months of incarceration awaiting trial. Their crime was writing anti-establishment metal music, for which they were charged with blasphemy and propaganda against the state. After paying am $80,000 bail, they waited for the trial and, following a guilty verdict that sentenced them to six years in prison, they sought asylum in Norway. Now they have an album out 'Revenge at All Costs' where they're "making the statement that you cannot do this to a human".

Great Bill Maher on words-redefining: "The words 'victim' and 'survivor' have traveled a long way from their original usage. The baby from the Nirvana album says he's a victim. He's suing Nirvana for lifelong damages. I never thought I'd have to say this to a baby, but stop being such a fucking baby. You're not a victim. There's no reason you can't have a normal, happy life just because people look at you and think, 'baby penis'".

John Hinckley Jr., the would-be assassin of former American President Ronald Reagan, complained about alleged unpaid royalties for a song he says he "co-wrote" with the band Devo. Hinckley wrote a poem as an obsessive verse written to actress Jodie Foster, who Hinckley had been stalking and hoped to impress by assassinating Reagan. Devo's Gerald V. Casale said that DEVO was "blown away by the poetic sociopathy" of Hinckley's poetry and used a few of his verses in their song 'I Desire'. It seems he got at least $610 in royalties so far. Newsweek brings the crazy story.

Don't excuse your French
July 02, 2021

LilyIsThatYou and the power of TikTok

Rolling Stone explores the power of TikTok on the example of LilyIsThatYou whose song 'FMRN' the popular social media took down due to, well, simple and explicit lyric - “Can you come fuck me right now?”. A snippet of the hither chorus on TikTok drew over a million views in 24 hours, only to be removed by the editors of the social. After RS inquired about the removal of the snippet, TikTok put it back online. "This episode illustrates the power that platforms like TikTok have over artists’ trajectories in 2021. By now, TikTok’s wide reach is the stuff of music industry legend — in select instances, it is capable of delivering a song by an unknown act to legions of new listeners before lunch. But the platform can take away as quickly as it gives. And because services like TikTok are so dominant, they don’t always have to justify their actions, especially regarding smaller, independent artists".

In 2008 Katty Perry released her hit-single 'I Kissed A girl'. "For as groundbreaking as it felt to hear a woman explicitly singing about being with another woman then, it would take another 13 years for a man explicitly singing about being with another man to appear on the charts — enter Lil Nas X’s 'MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)'" - The Pudding goes into the history of same-sex lyrics in pop songs.

"The only way forward for me is to leave the band. I hope in distancing myself from them I am able to speak my mind without them suffering the consequences. I leave with love in my heart and I wish those three boys nothing but the best" - Mumford & Sons banjo player Winston Marshall wrote in a Medium blog post officially announcing his departure from the band. The pressure he felt has started after he supported controversial right-wing figure Andy Ngo. Marshall believes it had also started to be "distressing" for his bandmates as well.

"Despite all the restrictions and prohibitions, I will complete the album. Maybe that will lead to a return to prison, but it really does not matter to me. I am doomed to produce music" - Iranian artist Mehdi Rajabian (31) says in a Rolling Stone interview from a solitary confinement in a basement. He is about to release his new album 'Coup of Gods', where he mixes classical strings, Middle Eastern instruments, and gorgeous vocalizations, as well as female voices which could bring him back to jail.

“The hatred shown towards me from the creators of the Simpsons is obviously a taunting lawsuit, but one that requires more funding than I could possibly muster in order to make a challenge” - Morrissey writes on his website after a Simpsons episode which parodied the former Smiths frontman. "The worst thing you can do in 2021 is to lend a bit of strength to the lives of others. There is no place in modern music for anyone with strong emotions … In a world obsessed with Hate Laws, there are none that protect me” - the singer says. Morrissey satirised during the episode 'Panic on the Streets of Springfield', in which Lisa Simpson becomes obsessed with a fictional band called the Snuffs and befriends its frontman, Quilloughby.

'The United States vs. Billie Holiday' comes down to what one single song does to the life of the singer, to the society, and the system. LA Times recalls what really happened when federal officers prosecuted Billie Holiday because of the song about a lynching in the American South - the powerful 'Strange Fruit', with the excuse of fighting against the drugs. Critics don't really like the movie.

Photo: Òmnium Cultural

Spanish rapper Valtònyc, originally from Mallorca, was sentenced to three and a half years in jail after being convicted of slander, Lèse-majesté, and glorifying terrorism in his lyrics. A day before his arrest in May 2018 he fled to Belgium. Recently, another Spanish rapper, Pablo Hasél, was arrested while also practicing his freedom of speech. Valtònyc looks back on his sentence: "It seemed like a joke – almost four years in jail for a song. But it wasn’t: there are 18 rappers in Spain facing jail for similar charges".

Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition - in 21st century
February 22, 2021

Barcelona: Five days of protests after rapper gets jailed

Five nights of protests in Barcelona have followed after the arrest of rapper Pablo Hasél, convicted of criticizing the country's monarchy and glorifying a separatist group in a series of tweets, Reuters reports. Thousands took to the streets Saturday night, protesting Hasél's conviction and nine-month sentence. Protests turned violent on Saturday with protesters throwing objects at police, setting fires and looting and vandalizing many luxury shops.

Anti-riot police have arrested Spanish rapper Pablo Hasél who barricaded himself with dozens of his supporters in a university, BBC reports. The rapper was escorted by riot police out of Lleida University's rectorate building, in the northeastern Catalonia region, where he and over 50 supporters had locked themselves in since mid-Monday. Hasél has been sentenced to 9 months in prison for glorifying terrorism and slandering the crown and state institutions over tweets and lyrics that attacked the monarchy and police.

Freedom on the verge of a nervous breakdown
February 11, 2021

Spanish rapper Pablo Hasél sentenced to prison for tweets about the king

Spanish rapper Pablo Hasél has been ordered to report to prison to serve nine months and one day, for glorifying terrorism and insulting the Crown and state institutions in a series of tweets. After over 200 artists – including the filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar – signed a petition defending the rapper, the Spanish government announced that it is planning a reform to the criminal code that would eliminate prison terms for crimes involving freedom of expression, el Pais reports.

Pandemonic incriminations
February 09, 2021

Behemoth frontman Nergal sued for stepping on Virgin Mary image

Behemoth frontman Nergal is facing a charge of blasphemy in his native Poland due to an image in which he is seen stepping on artwork that depicts the Virgin Mary, Loudwire reports. The Polish musician, real name Adam Darski, is accused of “publicly insulting the object of Christian religious worship in the form of the person of the Mother of God” by sharing the offending image on social media. Nergal confirmed there was “another lawsuit in the process”, but claimed it was “nonsense”.

Jagger sang "I'll stick my knife right down your throat, baby" but it doesn't mean he was involved in gangs
January 13, 2021

The history of UK trials for drill lyrics

BBC has looked into details of dozens of prosecutions in the UK for drill and rap music lyrics from the last decade. Police often blame drill for fuelling violence, and when it comes to court, it is also increasingly being used as evidence. Defense lawyers say it stops defendants from getting a fair trial, while also limiting rappers' freedom of speech.

Digga D

There have been at least 30 cases where rap music or videos have been used as evidence in England and Wales, exclusively against Black men, according to research by London School of Economics and Political Science - Huck magazine is warning about the dangerous practice in the UK. Prosecutors are allowed to present lyrics as evidence of someone’s character, the logic being that because you rap about violence or criminality you are a criminal. There also seems to be racial bias to this - no other fictional form is targeted in this way in court. On the other side, the harassment and targeting of Black people is done with little or no accountability.

"The State of Maryland’s highest court ruled that rap lyrics may be admitted in court as evidence of a defendant’s guilt. This blatantly racist decision is a travesty that sets a dangerous precedent" - veteran attorney Dina LaPolt writes for Variety about a recent case of conviction of one Lawrence Montague partly based on his rap lyrics. LaPolt continues - "great music is more often than not rooted in storytelling, and by imposing criminal consequences for a story told through an artistic medium, the court here threatens to stifle creativity and limit the scope of artistic expression". She also sees racial bias here: "I would invite anyone suggesting that this ruling is not limited to rap music to find an example of a court admitting lyrical evidence of a country singer driving drunk or shooting a cheating spouse".

Snoop Dogg, who had an album named 'Doggystyle' which began with a sketch about bathtub coitus, thinks that Cardi B's 'WAP' is too sexy, as he said in an interview on the newsmag program Central Ave. Snoop, who also once rapped, “she will get G’d if she don’t suck dick,” added of their vaginas, “that’s like your pride and possession. That’s your jewel of your crown". Where did the change come from? -  "I’ma older man”.

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