The young rapper was just a teen when officials said his rap lyrics were threats against police.
Famous hip hop artists are using their names to bring about justice for rapper Mayhem Mal, real name Jamal Knox. It was just five years ago that authorities stumbled across one of Knox's music videos titled "F**k the Police." On the song, the rapper spoke about bringing harm to police officers, and a court later decided that the lyrics weren't covered under the First Amendment. The song was used as evidence in his trial and Knox was charged, convicted, and sentenced to two to four years in prison.
The New York Times reports that rappers including Meek Mill, Killer Mike, Yo Gotti, Chance The Rapper, 21 Savage, Fat Joe, and Styles P are banding together in an effort to convince the Supreme Court to revisit the controversial case. A court submitted briefing, submitted on the ground of Knox's First Amendment rights, states that the primer "illustrates how 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, may mistakenly interpret a rap song as a true threat of violence and may falsely conclude a rapper intended to convey a true threat of violence when he did not."
The "primer on rap music and hip-hop" filed by the rap artists will hopefully force the higher courts to consider Knox's case, now that it's been seven months since his appeal was denied. "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 may mistakenly interpret a rap song as a true threat of violence," it states in the court document.
“Outlaw country music is given much more poetic license than gangster rap, and I listen to both,” Killer Mike told The New York Times. “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.”
“While famous rappers like Eminem win Grammy Awards and make millions off the violent imagery in their songs, judges and juries are routinely convinced that lesser-known rap artists are somehow living out their lyrics as rhymed autobiography,” said Knox's lawyer, R. Stanton Jones. "It’s an alarming trend, often with devastating consequences for the young men of color who are almost always targeted in these cases."
Meanwhile, the court is standing by their decision to convict Knox, claiming that his words weren't just lyrics for entertainment purposes, but where threats against the officials named in the song.