Prosecutor’s use of rap lyrics during closing argument leads to new trial

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals reversed a first degree murder conviction because the prosecutor quoted lyrics from a rap song on the defendant’s social media page (after the trial court told him not to do so).  Note, these were not lyrics the defendant wrote.  Rather, these lyrics were from a song the defendant merely posted to social media.  Here is what the prosecutor said:

I don’t know if this is going to come as a surprise, but I really like rap music, I always have, Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, now Drake and some others, and I have them because of the artistry of that music form can transport me to places that I don’t know about. They can describe with vivid, even brutality, things that are foreign to my experience, things that I don’t know about. There are obviously like any song anywhere in the world, there are good things, songs about good things and songs about bad things, there are songs that don’t have anything to do with rap about good things and bad things, it’s the difference between Good Vibrations and Folsom Prison Blues. It’s the difference between Nothing but a G thing and a song about somebody getting killed. But music can take us to a different place and it can explain things that we have a hard time explaining ourselves. There’s a local rapper who doesn’t . . . have anything to do with this case, it’s just I heard it, he’s local, and describe this lyric. And it’s got some rough language and I apologize it says, “N-—s wanna play, so they going down. N—-s wanna beef, so I cut em down. When you see me, you better move around unless you want to duk down.” That’s why you drive an orange car. That’s why you get your little man to do it for you. “If you see me, you better move around.” Three o’clock in the afternoon on a Thursday, don’t matter, bunch of people, I’ll get ya, I’m gonna be feared, I’m to be respected, and so when you get caught up, you won’t put my name in it, you’ll put the name in it of the two dead guys. It is something incomprehensible, but we know that there are rough men out there ready to do violence, and they do violence when people fear them. It still doesn’t give us a good reason why. It is cold comfort to [the victim’s family].

Where to begin…  Granted, “N—– wanna beef, so I cut em down” is a bit more violent than the prosecutor’s “good things” song, Nothing but a G thing.  After all, “Nothing but a G thing” only advocates smacking bitches that talk shit and pimpin’ hoes.  Still, the “Nothing but a G thing” example wrecks his entire argument.  This prosecutor wasn’t advocating domestic violence and human trafficking by his endorsement of a 90s hit song.  He just overlooked those violent parts and bobbed his head like most people that listen to rap music.  However, I guess this rule only applies to well-educated white people.  If you’re a poor black person from the inner city, you must mean it.

To use legalese, the prosecutor inflamed the passions or prejudices of the jury by quoting these rap lyrics.

New trial.

State v. Sharpe, No. M2015-00927-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Crim. App. Nov. 2, 2016)


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