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Judge Rules Rap Lyrics Aren’t Admissible In Jam Master Jay Case

The man accused of killing Run-DMC’s Jam Master Jay can’t have his rap lyrics used against him at trial, a Brooklyn judge decided Tuesday in a ruling that doubled as a history-filled paean to hip-hop as “a platform for expression to many who had largely been voiceless.” The ruling came in response to an attempt by federal prosecutors to introduce lyrics penned by Karl Jordan Jr. as evidence of his role in gunning down Jay, a pioneering artist whose birth name was Jason Mizell. His 2002 death remains one of rap’s most infamous slayings, the Associated Press reports. In her 14-page order, Brooklyn Federal Judge LaShann DeArcy Hall traced the evolution of hip-hop over five decades, referencing tracks from over a dozen artists before ultimately finding the lyrics inadmissible.


“From the genre’s nascence as an oral tradition, rap artists have played the part of storytellers, providing a lens into their lives and those in their communities,” Hall wrote. Prosecutors had sought to introduce several lines written by Jordan that described first-person accounts of violence and drug dealing, including: “We aim for the head, no body shots, and we stick around just to see the body drop.” Those lyrics didn’t detail the specific crime, Hall wrote, but “merely contain generic references to violence that can be found in many rap songs.” She pointed to similar lines written by rappers Nas, Ice Cube and Vince Staples, along with interviews with artists like Fat Joe and Future who have publicly discussed the distance between their art and real lives. Diving further into the genre’s past, Hall cited the political activism of artists like A Tribe Called Quest and Queen Latifah, along with the role “gangsta rap” played “as a portal for others to see into America’s urban centers.”

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