Expert testimony leads to fairer trials
A University of Manchester academic has become the first UK 'expert witness' of rap lyrics in UK murder cases.
When gangsta rap lyrics were presented by prosecution counsels as evidence of intent to commit violence, defence teams approached Dr Eithne Quinn, a rap expert and author of the book, 'Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang: The Culture and Commerce of Gangsta Rap' (Columbia University Press, 2005).
They asked her to explain why some young men write violent rap lyrics and what they mean.
Eithne has now acted as expert in three murder trials, as well as other cases. Criminal barristers who have worked with her say that defendants have received fairer trials thanks to her testimony.
In several cases the Crown contended that the first-person character in the gangsta rap verse written by defendants should be taken at face value – as an autobiographical statement. They contended that the rap lyrics were 'blueprints' for violence.
But Eithne rebutted that the defendants were simply mimicking the verse form of famous rap stars. In her monograph she had explored the use of the persona device in gangsta rap. The first-person perspective helps establish all-important street credibility. So she finds it worrying that gangsta rap lyrics are being increasingly taken literally by the prosecution in serious criminal cases.
Eithne said: "The outlandish personas they adopt draw on narrative traditions of boasting in black folklore. Due to the huge commercial popularity of gangsta rap, they have become very formulaic. Usually, young men write these rhymes in the hope of becoming successful rap artists or to entertain their peers.
"Sadly, judges and juries, who aren't familiar with the music, may easily conflate rapper and persona. In the context of a gruesome murder, they could believe that such violent verse is personal testimony."
"Sadly, judges and juries, who aren't familiar with the music, may easily conflate rapper and persona."Dr Eithne Quinn / Rap expert and author of 'Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang: The Culture and Commerce of Gangsta Rap
In one 2010 murder case in which Eithne acted as expert, the judge agreed to exclude the violent rap lyrics from the case, ruling that the lyrics were more prejudicial than probative.
Though each case is different, Eithne believes that the use in prosecution cases of such lyrics is often prejudicial – in both a legal and a racial sense. All of the defendants in the cases in which she has testified have been black.
- School of Arts, Languages and Cultures
- Nuthin' but a "G" Thang: The Culture and Commerce of Gangsta Rap
Dr Eithne Quinn
Dr Quinn is Senior Lecturer in American Studies in our School of Arts, Languages and Cultures. She came to Manchester in 2003 after lecturing at Nottingham, UCLAN and De Montfort.
Her research concentrates on African American popular culture, US race politics, and the cultural industries since 1965.
Dr Eithne Quinn's research profile