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Over the past few years Michael Render (a.k.a. Killer Mike) has emerged as one of the most outspoken artists in rap, vocal both on and off the stage against civil rights violations. He’s written spirited op-eds, been featured on major media outlets and hit the road hard, campaigning for politicians like Bernie Sanders. He’s a modern day patriot who is unafraid to use the platform that’s been given to him.

In recent news, Render (along with T.I. and Big Boi) filed an amicus asking the Supreme Court to examine the case of Taylor Bell, a high school student and aspiring rapper who was suspended over a controversial song he posted on YouTube where he accuses two gym teachers (from Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Mississippi) of sexually harassing female students. The school district found his lyrics to be contentious and the discplinary action quickly followed by Judge Rhesa Hawkins Barksdale who claimed that the lyrics were “threatening, harassing, and intimidating to a teacher.” Bell is suing the school for a violation of First Amendment rights. An excerpt from Bell’s song:


This is one in a series of cases where rap lyrics were used either as an admission of guilt or grounds for disciplinary action. Vonte Skinner for example was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison for rap lyrics that prosecutors claim proved his involvement in a murder; the lyrics were allowed as evidence even though they were composed before the shooting (the New Jersey State Supreme Court later overturned the conviction claiming that the lyrics unfairly prejudiced the jury).

Ackquille Jean Pollard (b.k.a. Bobby Shmurda) is another such example, he’s currently incarcerated at Riker’s Island for lyrics that authorities say prove his involvement in criminal activity. Aside from the lyrics, there is no evidence connecting him to any act of violence.

The court system has been reeling over what to do. Two years ago a New Jersey court ruled that rap lyrics cannot be used in court unless it has a strong connection to the crime in question, but that hasn’t stopped authorities from harassing or silencing individuals. Render is looking to reverse that trend. In the case of Taylor Bell, Killer Mike is arguing that the lyrics shouldn’t be taken literally, that rap songs should be looked at as stories, no different than a movie or film or even a poem. The problem is that many authorities are, despite its global influence, refusing to acknowledge hip-hop culture as a legitimate art form.

Render, T.I. and Big Boi’s amicus zeroes in on a psychological study of the song “Bad Man’s Blunder,” a folk narrative that glorifies the murder of a sheriff’s deputy. According to the study, when readers were told it was a folk song they were less inclined to call it a threat than if it were a rap song. This exposes the double standard that is plaguing popular culture. Killer Mike and company are looking to educate Supreme Court justices on the merits of rap and how to properly interpret it.

This is an important step forward for hip-hop culture as it looks to stimulate a conversation that desperately needs to move forward. In an ideal world, where racism is not an epidemic and ignorant, fear-driven stereotypes have not been internalized, this wouldn’t be necessary. But if the past year has taught us anything it is that we are light years away from a post-racial world; that the problem extends even deeper, into economics and the culture of fear and hate. Artists like Killer Mike are important because he can relate on many levels; his father is a police officer and his music attracts a diverse following.

It is not a necessity for rappers to become teachers but the ones who do stand up do so knowing that their efforts will help close the chasm that divides so much of America.