A Brooklyn judge decided on Tuesday that the rap lyrics of the man accused of killing Run-DMC’s Jam Master Jay cannot be used against him at trial. The ruling served as a tribute to hip-hop, acknowledging its significance as a platform for expression for marginalized communities.
Federal prosecutors sought to introduce lyrics written by Karl Jordan Jr. as evidence of his involvement in the murder of Jay, also known as Jason Mizell, a seminal figure in rap whose death in 2002 remains unsolved.
In her 14-page decision, Brooklyn Federal Judge LaShann DeArcy Hall explored the cultural impact of hip-hop over the past five decades. She referenced songs by numerous artists to illustrate its evolution before ultimately ruling the lyrics inadmissible.
“Judge Hall highlighted the role of rap artists as storytellers, tracing back to the genre’s origins as an oral tradition. She noted that rap serves as a window into the lives of artists and their communities,” stated Hall.
Prosecutors aimed to use lines penned by Jordan, such as “We aim for the head, no body shots, and we stick around just to see the body drop,” to link him to violence and drug dealing. However, Hall deemed these lyrics as generic references to violence commonly found in rap songs, lacking specific details about the crime.
Drawing parallels, she referenced similar themes in songs by Nas, Ice Cube, and Vince Staples, as well as interviews with artists like Fat Joe and Future, who discuss the distinction between their art and reality. Additionally, Hall delved into the historical context of rap, highlighting its political activism and portrayal of urban life through “gangsta rap.”
Acknowledging controversial themes present in various music genres, Hall referenced lyrics from the Rolling Stones and country artist Jason Aldean in a footnote.
The use of rap lyrics in legal proceedings has sparked debate, as seen in cases like the ongoing trial of Young Thug, where they were allowed as evidence. Defense attorneys argue that this practice unfairly tarnishes the image of rap artists and prejudices juries against rap music.
Hall emphasized the importance of protecting artists’ freedom of expression, cautioning against the unfair use of their lyrics in criminal trials. She suggested exceptions only when lyrics directly relate to a specific crime.
Jordan and his accomplice, Ronald Washington, are accused of fatally shooting Mizell in his recording studio in 2002, allegedly in retaliation for excluding them from a drug deal. Despite the case remaining unsolved for years, recent advancements in evidence and witness cooperation have propelled the prosecution forward.
Both defendants have pleaded not guilty, with a third defendant, indicted in May, awaiting a separate trial. Defense attorneys argue that delays in the indictment hinder their ability to mount a proper defense.