Chance the Rapper, Killer Mike and 21 Savage, among other rappers, recently filed a legal brief that served as a “primer on rap music and hip hop” in an appeal to the US Supreme Court.
The appeal, the New York Times reports, concerns Jamal Knox, who’d recorded the song “Fuck the Police” with a friend after he was arrested in 2012. The song named the Pittsburgh police officers who’d arrested Knox, and also included lines like “Let’s kill these cops ’cause they don’t do us no good.”
Prosecutors relied on the song’s lyrics to charge Knox with issuing terroristic threats and intimidating witnesses (the officers were scheduled to testify against Knox). He was sentenced to two years in prison in 2014, and his conviction was upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last year.
A number of rappers have rallied round to support Knox’s appeal to the US Supreme Court by filing a legal brief. Chance the Rapper, 21 Savage, Meek Mill, Killer Mike, Yo Gotti, Styles P and Fat Joe are all named in the brief, alongside other industry professionals and academics.
The first part of the brief lays out a quick history of hip hop, covering rap’s origins in the impoverished Bronx borough of ’70s New York and zeroing in on the impact of NWA’s classic track, “Fuck tha Police” (which Knox’s song nodded to in its title).
The second part argues for hip hop’s artistic license and covers the ways lyrics have been misinterpreted and weaponized against rappers.
“[Knox’s song ‘Fuck the Police’] is a work of poetry… It is not intended to be taken literally, something that a reasonable listener with even a casual knowledge of rap would understand,” the brief reads.
“Viewing the lyrics in their proper context is vital. Like all poets, rappers use figurative language, relying on a full range of literary devices such as simile and metaphor… Furthermore, rappers famously rely on exaggeration and hyperbole as they craft the larger-than-life characters that have entertained fans (and offended critics) for decades.”