NEW YORK –
The man accused of killing Run-DMC’s Jam Master Jay cannot allow his rap lyrics to be used against him at trial, a Brooklyn judge decided Tuesday in a ruling that served as a storied paean to hip. -hop as “a platform for expression.” to many who had remained largely voiceless.
The ruling came in response to an attempt by federal prosecutors to present lyrics written by Karl Jordan Jr. as evidence of his role in the shooting death of Jay, a pioneering artist whose birth name was Jason Mizell. His death in 2002 remains one of rap’s most infamous murders.
In her 14-page order, Brooklyn federal Judge LaShann DeArcy Hall traced the evolution of hip-hop over five decades, referencing tracks by more than a dozen artists before finally finding the lyrics inadmissible.
“Since the birth of the genre as an oral tradition, rap artists have played the role of storytellers, providing insight into their lives and those of their communities,” Hall wrote.
Prosecutors had attempted to introduce several lines written by Jordan that described first-person accounts of violence and drug trafficking, including: “We aimed for the head, not body blows, and we stood only to watch the body fall.”
Those lyrics did not detail the specific crime, Hall wrote, but instead “simply contain generic references to violence that can be found in many rap songs.”
He pointed to similar lines written by rappers Nas, Ice Cube and Vince Staples, along with interviews with artists like Fat Joe and Future who have publicly discussed the distance between their art and real life.
Delving further into the genre’s past, Hall cited the political activism of artists like A Tribe Called Quest and Queen Latifah, along with the role that “gangsta rap” played “as a portal for others to see America’s urban centers.” .
“The Court cannot fail to note that hateful themes – including racism, misogyny and homophobia – can be found in a wide range of genres in addition to rap music,” he added in a footnote, even referring to lyrics by the Rolling Stones and Jason Aldean, a controversial music star from the county.
The use of rap lyrics in criminal proceedings has become a contentious issue in several high-profile cases, including Young Thug’s ongoing racketeering trial. In that case, the judge allowed the lyrics to be presented at trial, a decision that defense attorneys say amounts to a racist “murder” intended to poison a jury already skeptical of rap music.
In his ruling Tuesday, Hall wrote that courts should be “cautious” about allowing the use of hip-hop lyrics against criminal defendants because “artists should be free to create without fear that their lyrics may be unfairly used against them in court.” “
He said there could be specific exceptions in cases where lyrics discuss the precise details of a particular crime.
Jordan and an accomplice, Ronald Washington, are accused of confronting Mizell in his recording studio in 2002 and then shooting him in the head. The prosecution argues that it was an act of revenge for excluding them from a drug deal.
The murder had frustrated investigators for decades, but prosecutors said they had made key progress in the case over the past five years, conducting new interviews and ballistics tests and getting witnesses to cooperate.
Defense lawyers have claimed that the government delayed charging Washington and Jordan, making it more difficult for them to defend themselves.
Both men have pleaded not guilty, as has a third defendant who was charged last May and will be tried separately.