ABC News Studios is releasing an hour-long documentary titled Rap Trap: Hip-Hop on Trial on the criminal case against Young Thug and Gunna, to air on Hulu Feb. 23. The doc will explore the debate around whether or not rap lyrics should be permitted in criminal prosecutions, and the subsequent effects on artists’ free speech rights.
Rap Trap: Hip-Hop on Trial will feature interviews with 300 Entertainment CEO Kevin Liles, Young Thug’s ex-girlfriend Jerrika Karlae and artists including will.i.am, Fat Joe and Killer Mike. “Rap music is judged unlike any other genre like Black people are judged unlike any other people,” says rapper and activist Killer Mike in the trailer.
The documentary will also dive into the case of activist and former No Limit rapper McKinley “Mac” Phipps Jr., who served 21 years in prison for a crime he says he did not commit. Phipps and his family are interviewed for the show, opening up about the lasting impact of the case. Additional interviews include scholar Michael Eric Dyson and Erik Nielson, co-author of Rap on Trial.
In May 2022, Young Thug and Gunna were among 28 people indicted in Georgia on conspiracy to violate the state’s RICO act and street gang charges, according to documents obtained by Billboard. The state was building the case since 2012, according to jail records. The indictment heavily cited Thug’s lyrics, something that became a heated point of debate in connection to racism and free speech.
The indictment directly quoted from Young Thug’s music, including a 2018 video in which he rapped, “I never killed anybody but got something to do with that body.” While prosecutors claim such statements were made “in furtherance” of the gang’s criminal enterprise, critics say that pulling on rap lyrics — a known form of creative expression — only furthers racial biases against young Black men that can have permanent consequences.
In the midst of the Georgia case, California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a first-in-the-nation statute into law that aims to restrict prosecutors’ usage of rap lyrics as criminal evidence against the artists who wrote them. Titled the Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act, the move had extensive music industry support, including Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr., Mitch Glazier, the chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America, 300 Entertainment CEO Liles, among others.
In December 2022, Gunna pleaded guilty to the charges against him in order to secure his release from jail, but stressed that he was not cooperating with prosecutors.
Rap Trap: Hip-Hop on Trial begins streaming Thursday, Feb. 23, on Hulu.
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