Rap's Poetic License: Revoked 

East Bay prosecutors regularly use rap lyrics and music videos as evidence in criminal proceedings, a tactic that undermines a defendant's right to a fair trial and continues the legacy of stifling Black expression.

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"Roberts nailed it," said Nielson. "The state basically said, 'Well, no, he's famous,' and Roberts said, 'Well, how do you become famous?' What I suspect Roberts didn't know is that rappers are prosecuted all of the time for their lyrics."

Still, Nielson knows that, for rap and hip-hop culture, much of the damage is already done. In Rap on Trial, he cites a few emcees who dropped the mic for the last time after prosecutors used their recorded or written utterances to support criminal allegations. The chilling effect, Nielson said, is visible in many new rap music videos that feature disclaimers stating what should already be obvious: they're works of fiction, often setting hyperbole, wordplay, and story-telling into the service of what's often valuable cultural commentary. It's a burden that doesn't fall on other genres.

Deandre Mitchell has considered retiring Laz Tha Boy. "But then I figured," he said, "they're already trying to charge me with it, so I might as well make the music I want to make, because there's still freedom of speech. I wasn't charged with nothing. Everything was based on music."

His upcoming EP is tentatively titled Rap on Trial. 

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