A Bad Reputation: Why Labels Should Support Free Speech for British Hip-Hop | notice | Opinion
music weekCover star Digga D just made a Album No. 1but the British rap star has faced legal challenges in his career, including a criminal behavior order, following criminal convictions and stints in prison.
Here, in a joint opinion piece exclusively for music weeklawyer and Sheryl Nwosu, President of the Black Music Coalition and fellow lawyer Nick Eziefula take a closer look at the penalties facing the UK rap community and call for greater understanding from the industry…
Stars in the United States recently united in support of a bill to prevent lyrics from being admissible in court cases, except where there is a clear link between the lyrics and a crime.
Their support for the legislation is two-fold: they say the proposed legislation is both fundamental to free speech and to addressing systemic racism in the criminal justice system.
The problem is not unique to the United States. During the last years, British drill music, arguably a growing subgenre of British rap, is increasingly being used in the courtroom as evidence of bad character, with the prosecution hiring police officers who are notably not “expert” drills to decode the slang-heavy lyrics for the court. In some cases, the videos presented as evidence of gang membership and violent behavior predate the alleged offense by several years.
The scrutiny of drill lyrics can be seen as the latest development in a concerning trend, but such scrutiny has a long history when you look at how rap music and its various subgenres have been treated in the Kingdom. -United.
For many years, black British music artists have been targeted by the police. As early as 2005, prosecutors sought to use the lyrics of So Solid Crew’s music to suggest a predilection for violence and the use of firearms in a murder trial involving a band member. megaman.
At a time when the media seemed to want to associate the band’s name with violence, So Solid Crew’s touring apparently came to a halt. British rapper Giggs allegedly claimed police pressured the XL label into not signing him. Form 696 was frequently used to prevent black music events from being held. And more recently, drill star T unknown was charged, and later acquitted, of murder.
For many years black British music artists have been targeted by the police
Sheryl Nwosu and Nick Eziefula
Are lyrics that refer to violence simply observations of real life, dramatized or exaggerated for entertainment? Or should they be seen as potentially documenting an intent or history of violence, or a disposition to actual criminal activity by the artist?
The approach taken by the justice system appears inconsistent and divided along clear racial lines: Controversial lyrics by white artists in other musical genres have rarely been used in criminal proceedings.
English law already provides safeguards against the automatic admission of such documents – the evidence must pass the test of relevance and, where appropriate, bad character considerations under the Criminal Justice Act 2003.
But it’s debatable whether the use of music, rap lyrics and videos in criminal cases is an extension of how black men in particular are hyper-policed in the UK; their activities are systematically viewed through the lens of alleged criminality, which is clearly evidenced by the very fact that these activities are presented in the context of criminal trials.
We observe that the negative view of black art and expression is primarily rooted in fear, and a lack of understanding or acceptance that for many the music under scrutiny is only the expression of a part of downtown life, while not necessarily autobiographical to the artists.
It is this fear, along with a lack of nuanced understanding of artists’ backgrounds, lives and musical influences, which all provide the context for some rap and drill music, that can lead to prejudicial judgments of from judges and juries in courtrooms. It must be remembered that the main device of this music is the entertainment of the eager public.
How does this affect the prospects of black artists in the music industry?
Even when lyrics are not allowed into the courtroom as a resource for the prosecution, the creative output of black musicians is also monitored and censored using Criminal Behavior Orders (CBOs), with Digga D being a well-known example.
The scope of CBOs is broad and can include restrictions on who an artist can be with, with music videos reviewed for compliance, to restrictions on the geographic areas they can verbally reference in their lyrics. As a result, drill artists may find themselves operating within a complex matrix of limitations. Horrid1, another drill artist, revealed in an interview that he was called back to prison for commenting on an Instagram post by Digga D’s, in violation of a ban on associating with the rapper.
While the CPS recently announced it would review and update its guidance on the use of drill music as evidence in trials, following concerns raised by legal professionals, academics and youth groups , the fact remains that many black musicians seek to forge a successful career. face unique challenges both within the industry and also outside of it with the scrutiny applied to their art.
The association of rap, and drill music in particular, with the so-called “gang culture” – that term itself being extremely loaded – means that record labels and other music industry organizations can become more reluctant to invest in rappers than artists of other genres. This already presents itself as a possible area of racial bias against artists who are already signed and those trying to get signed.
To counter this, we urge labels and others working with artists to become more aware of the circumstances in which artists may find themselves under the control of the criminal justice system because of their musical content, music videos or even their personal associations with regions or people and how to actively manage them in their involvement and relationship with a given artist.
In our experience, black musicians are among the most driven and visionary entrepreneurs – just as talented as the tech innovators and global advertising agencies we work with. In the already difficult music business, they face the additional challenges of negative stereotyping and under-representation. Their breakthrough success is a source of inspiration and opportunity, both for their communities and for the industry as a whole.
To ensure their long-term success, the industry must be responsive, responsive and, dare we say, supportive of the real pressures that black artists in particular may face, such as hyper-examination of their words, their production, their black lives and indeed their art.
Subscribers can click here to read our interview with Digga D and his team.
Our coverage with the Black Music Coalition is here.
Sheryl Nwosu is a lawyer at 25 Bedford Row Chambers and chair of the Black Music Coalition (BMC). She lectures and advises labels on artists, music and the criminal justice system.
Nick Eziefula is a partner at Simkins, a leading media and entertainment law firm. He specializes in commercial contracts and intellectual property. He also has a background as a rapper, releasing several studio albums and touring internationally.
Simkins and the BMC are both supporters of Power onwhich supports black music creators and industry professionals and addresses anti-black racism and racial disparities in the music industry.