A number of musicians have come together to fight for their rights to free speech after artist Mayhem Mal found himself sentenced to two years in prison because of lyrics that threatened violence against police.
Mal, whose legal name is Jamal Knox was arrested for gun and drug charges in 2012. Recently he was handed a prison sentence for making terroristic threats and witness intimidation.
Other activist artists referred to his song as a ‘work of poetry [that’s] not intended to be taken literally.’ Were these credible threats?
Here’s part of the Mal’s song ‘F—k the Police”… You decide.
‘So now they gonna chase me through these streets, and I’ma jam this
rusty knife all in his guts and chop his feet. You taking money away from
Beaz and all my s–t away from me, well your shift over at three and I’m
gonna f–k up where you sleep.’
Rap lyrics have been telling stories of violence, crime and life of the streets for years, but critics say that Mal stepped over the line when he published the names of his arresting officers.
“This first verse is for Officer Zeltner and all you fed force b—-s, and Mr.
Kosko, you can suck my d–k you keep on knocking my riche. You want
beef, well cracker I’m wit it, that whole department can get it. All these
soldiers in my committee gonna f–k over you b—-s.”
Mal’s lawyers argued that the lyrics are being taken out of context. “The song’s lyrics were never meant to be read as bare text on a page,” they wrote in a statement petitioning the Supreme Court for an appeal. “Rather, the lyrics were meant to be heard, with music, melody, rhythm and emotion.”
Lawyers for Pittsburgh rapper Mayhem Mal argue that his lyrics are protected under the First Amendment.
A Pennsylvania court rejected those grounds, saying the rapper’s lyrics are a “true threat” against police. https://t.co/bWFGD93UiG
— New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) March 7, 2019
But when the song explicitly mentioned the officers by name… that is when free speech is no longer protected. Though artistic expression is a right in this country, specifically naming an individual creates a direct threat. It is completely fair for these officers to feel as though they had a target on their back.
In a world where mass shooters are writing manifestos and journal entries about killing their intended targets… why should we take those threats seriously but ignore music lyrics?
Artist Killer Mike argues that rap lyrics are more subject to persecution and profiling than other genres.
“Outlaw country music is given much more poetic license than gangster rap, and I listen to both,” rapper Killer Mike said. “And I can tell you that the lyrics are dark and brutal when Johnny Cash describes shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die and when Ice Cube rapped about a drive-by shooting early in his career.”
But at what point is the line drawn? This isn’t the first time a musician has rallied against the cops in song. Just look at NWA’s ‘F—k Tha Police’ from the late 90’s. The song was so infuriating to law enforcement that the assistant director of the FBI wrote a letter stating, “law enforcement officers dedicate their lives to the protection of our citizens, and recordings such as the one from N.W.A. are both discouraging and degrading to these brave, dedicated officers.”
Even if Mayhem Mal stated that these were just words and that he wasn’t planning on acting on any of the threats, his listeners may be the ones to step to the plate and attack a member of law enforcement, even if it wasn’t the Pittsburgh officers he refers to in his song.
So what becomes the standard now? Where is the line that cannot be crossed? This is surely not the last time we will see a case like this one.
Send us your feedback and as always, stay safe.