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Chance The Rapper, Killer Mike, Meek Mill & More File Supreme Court Brief On Rap Lyrics
A group of artists that also includes 21 Savage, Yo Gotti and Fat Joe give the Supreme Court a "a primer on rap music and hip-hop" in defense of First Amendment rights for rappers
"Lyrics in music are protected as free speech. However, the notion that this bedrock principle would depend on the genre is an alarming one, especially for those in the world of rap and hip-hop." -Conversations In Advocacy #48
The 2012 arrest and subsequent trial of Jamal Knox, a black artist who raps under the name Mayhem Mal, stirred up the First Amendment issue of freedom of speech in rap and hip-hop. In Knox' case, his lyrics included what the Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined to threats toward police officers that weren't protected by free speech.
"This is a work of poetry," reads the response in an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court this week. "It is not intended to be taken literally, something that a reasonable listener with even a casual knowledge of rap would understand."
With this collective effort, proliferating this baseline knowledge of rap is now seeing a new level of action and support. The group of artists behind it includes Chance The Rapper, Killer Mike, Yo Gotti, 21 Savage, Fat Joe and others, who filed the brief to serve as, "A primer on rap music and hip-hop."
The brief aims to educate Supreme Court justices, who average age is approximately 66, about the culture of the genre, focusing on the respect and perspective afforded to other genres that rap is also due.
"A person unfamiliar with what today is the nation’s most dominant musical genre or one who hears music through the auditory lens of older genres such as jazz, country or symphony," the brief reads, "may mistakenly interpret a rap song as a true threat of violence."
Killer Mike, a well-respected and GRAMMY-winning rapper and activist, contextualized the special treatment of rap lyrics as racially motivated.
"Outlaw country music is given much more poetic license than gangster rap, and I listen to both," he 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."
"It’s no different from stop and frisk,” he continued. “It’s another form of racial profiling."
The brief encourages the court to hear the appeal of Knox based on his First Amendment rights, while also working "to put rap music, which is a heavily stigmatized form of expression associated with negative stereotypes and often subject to misinterpretation, in the context of the history and conventions of the genre."
Hip-hop not only holds court as the most popular genre amongst consumers, but its popularity only continues to grow. The brief hopes to shape a more conscious future surrounding the genre. One way it contextualizes its culture is by pointing to past examples of personal expression perceived as real threats against authority, most notably with Ice-T's controversial 1992 song, "Cop Killer."
The brief reminds its readers, "Ice-T defended himself, saying, 'I’m singing in the first person as a character who is fed up with police brutality. . . If you believe that I’m a cop killer, you believe David Bowie is an astronaut.'"
Hip-Hop's Huge Year In Streaming: How Rap Reigned Supreme In 2018
GRAMMYs On The Hill Honorees Named
Legendary artist and producer Quincy Jones — 27-time GRAMMY winner and The Recording Academy's ambassador for its 50th Celebration — will headline a day of music advocacy as part of The Academy's GRAMMYs on The Hill activities in the nation's
Quincy Jones, Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rep. Marsha Blackburn to be saluted
Legendary artist and producer Quincy Jones — 27-time GRAMMY winner and The Recording Academy's ambassador for its 50th Celebration — will headline a day of music advocacy as part of The Academy's GRAMMYs on The Hill activities in the nation's capital on Sept. 5, it was announced today by The Recording Academy.
Events will include a unique afternoon jam session with GRAMMY-winning artist Keb' Mo' and members of Congress. Later that evening at an awards gala, Jones will be honored for his lifelong contributions to American music, and honorees Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) will be recognized for their legislative support of the arts and music creators.
Among the luminaries joining Keb' Mo' to salute the honorees will be four-time GRAMMY winner and Recording Academy Chair Jimmy Jam, Academy President Neil Portnow, nine-time GRAMMY winner Ray Benson (of Asleep At The Wheel), "Godfather of Go-Go" Chuck Brown, GRAMMY-winning songwriter Brett James ("Jesus Take The Wheel"), country superstar John Rich (of Big & Rich), four-time GRAMMY winner BeBe Winans and seven-time GRAMMY winner CeCe Winans.
"GRAMMYs on the Hill connects top music makers — from singers and songwriters to producers and engineers — with members of Congress in Washington to shed light on the effect music has in enriching our lives," said Portnow. "This year, as part of our 50th Celebration activities, we will highlight the importance of music preservation and education so that it continues to thrive in our culture for years to come."
Throughout the day, more than 120 music professionals from across the country will come to Washington to speak to legislators about promoting policies that improve the environment for music and its makers. Earlier in the day on Capitol Hill, the GRAMMY Foundation will showcase its programs with a special performance by Keb' Mo', who will jam with members of the Recording Arts and Sciences Congressional Caucus (the "Congressional GRAMMY Band" — a group of musician members of Congress who have informally jammed at previous Academy advocacy events) in the Cannon House Office Building Caucus Room on Capitol Hill.
That evening, GRAMMYs on the Hill will move to the ballroom of the Willard Inter-Continental Hotel for its 7th annual gala dinner where The Recording Academy will honor Jones, Sen. Kennedy and Rep. Blackburn. Chesnee High School of South Carolina will receive the GRAMMY Foundation's Signature School Award and Scholarship for its outstanding commitment to music education.
Neil Portnow's 49th GRAMMYs Telecast Remarks
Recording Academy President Neil Portnow's GRAMMYs On The Hill Remarks
Exactly one year ago, we gathered here for GRAMMYs on the Hill in this same ballroom, but in a very different environment. While we honored Natalie Cole for her artistry and Sen. Clinton and Congresswoman Bono for their protection of intellectual property, we were also anxiously waiting to see if the Senate would pass the Induce Act. In fact, many of my remarks that evening were about The Recording Academy's support of this act and its simple premise: business models based on active inducement of copyright infringement should not be allowed to flourish.
Well, what a difference a year makes.
While we would have welcomed a 100-0 victory in the Senate, a 9-0 victory in the Supreme Court will do just fine.
But tonight, my intention is not to discuss the Grokster case — pundits, lawyers and all of us have had plenty to say since the June 30 decision — but instead, I would like to address a more subtle yet equally important achievement that took place behind the scenes. For while the victory in Grokster can be traced to many dedicated and exceptional individuals and organizations, I believe the most important factor was a unified music community, working in a coordinated fashion toward a common goal.
And Grokster was not the only example of our unified approach during the past year.
In June, for the first time, the CEOs and presidents of virtually every music association gathered together for two days of discussion, debate, and a determination to address our industry's challenges. I thank my co-hosts Rick Carnes, from the Songwriters Guild, and Mitch Bainwol, from the RIAA, as well as the more than 20 leaders who joined us for those productive days.
And we need only to look at today's activities for another example. The first-ever Recording Arts Day on Capitol Hill brought together a wide range of interests from the industry — groups representing songwriters, artists, labels, publishers, producers, engineers, and digital services all participated in this important grassroots activity, bringing a sharper focus to Congress about our industry's contributions to our culture and economy.
We know what we can achieve together, so now it is time to redouble our combined efforts toward solving perhaps the most important issue before us and before the 109th Congress: modernization of music licensing for the digital age.
I'd like to share with you some thoughts on this subject from one of our advisors. No, I'm not talking about our lawyers and accountants — great though they are. I'm speaking about a young adult from our What's The Download Interactive Advisory Board — a panel of young music consumers that we've assembled to educate us and the industry.
Twenty-year-old Joy Mitchell of Hawthorne, Calif., told us, "There are songs you just can't find on digital music services, and until these services can offer everything Kazaa or old-school Napster had, they're not going to compete. They're losing business by not having every artist and every type of song available. That's huge. It's so frustrating when you are trying to do the right thing."
While previous conventional wisdom held, "you can't compete with free," today it would be more accurate to say, "you can't compete with all," for it is the attribute of all music — more than price — that makes the illegal services most attractive. Digital music companies are providing services today that allow their entire catalogue to be available on a portable music player for as little as $6 a month, without the concerns of spyware, viruses, lawsuits and other risks of P2P. It's a great deal, but the reality is their catalogues are far too small. Licensing reform can level the playing field for the legal services.
The Academy is grateful to Sens. Hatch and Leahy, Rep. Berman, and of course Rep. Smith, who has personally convened numerous meetings designed to solve this issue. Many other legislators have also raised the profile of this debate and offered support. We also thank the numerous organizations, nearly all represented here tonight, that have engaged in negotiations to develop a workable solution. That effort must be expedited, as the Grokster verdict did not completely solve our problem for us, but it did give us some breathing room to solve it ourselves. If we take too long arguing over how to split the pie, we may be surprised to find the pie has already been eaten by the pirates.
To make progress now, we might put ourselves in the shoes of Joy Mitchell and the millions of music consumers just like her. Joy doesn't think about multiple rights and royalties when she buys music. To her, the sound recording and the composition are a perfectly unified whole, and maybe we have something to learn from her. After all, it was an historic accord between the labels and the publishers that allowed for the subscription services to be launched in the first place four years ago. That was a great step, indicative of the kind of inter-community cooperation that now must continue. But more recently, separate negotiations between digital retailers and publishers and between digital retailers and labels have not produced the solution. So perhaps it is time for the guardians of both the recordings and compositions to come together again to find a way to sell the entire music package at a price that satisfies the needs of each link in the chain, from songwriter to consumer. For while the songwriter must approach his task with a blank page, the consumer does not approach the online store with a blank check. Only by continuing to develop a strategy together can we create a model that the music lover will accept, and that will turn pirates into customers.
The Recording Academy stands ready to help. Our membership is comprised of music professionals from every aspect of our community. While it is not for us to establish the solution, we believe we can serve as an honest broker in creating a framework for productive dialogue between those who control the interests of the sound recordings and the compositions. As industry leaders, you all have the intellect, passion and desire to find a workable resolution. Now, applying the cooperative spirit that proved so successful in solving other problems, we can surely solve this one as well.
Decades from now, when an entire new cast of music executives and music fans have taken our place, let them remember the people in this room as visionaries. Let them remember us as leaders who looked at the long view, and ensured a healthy music industry that respects consumers, the companies that deliver music, and most of all, the creators who make those enterprises possible — and who add so much to our lives.
Roll Call Commentary: "Turning Up The Volume On Music Issues"
When you think of the great music cities of America, what comes to mind? Los Angeles? Nashville? New York City? Brookside, Rhode Island?
If the last one was a surprise, it shouldn’t be. Nor should hearing about the great music being made in Shullsburg, Wisconsin; Park City, Utah; or Farmington Hills, Michigan. Because in all of those towns, people are making great music — and they’re expecting their elected leaders to protect their intellectual property. ...
You can read the rest of Daryl P. Friedman's commentary in Roll Call, "Turning Up The Volume on Music Issues," about the creators' rights issues championed by Academy members during GRAMMYs in My District here.