About

A portal to research, information and comment for all those who want to understand and engage with the use of rap evidence in legal proceedings.
This site is a product of the research project Prosecuting Rap: Criminal Justice and UK Black Youth Expressive Culture at The University of Manchester and includes outputs and activities from that project. It focuses primarily on what’s happening in the UK. But it also offers comparative resources — particularly from the US where there has been concerted push back against what US scholars call ‘rap on trial’.

Learn more

Rap culture

Rap—spoken-word verse over instrumentation—is the musical component of hip-hop culture that was first developed by Black and working-class youth in 1970s New York. Rap became a foremost youth-cultural form internationally. 

UK rappers like Stormzy, Unknown-T, Little Simz, M1llionz and Dave have forged highly successful careers, while many thousands of young people compose and record rap verse to express themselves, perform to friends, share on digital platforms and make some income.

Putting rap on trial
Themes of violence and crime are staples in the pop-culture of many young men and boys (from gaming to action and horror films) and they are staples in a number of rap subgenres. This includes controversial and successful UK Drill rap, which typically contains violent lyrics and imagery.
 
When conducting criminal investigations, police trawl the digital lives of young people looking for rap lyrics and videos that could appear incriminating. In turn, prosecutors seek to get rap material admitted to trial. The cases are typically group prosecutions, including controversial ‘joint enterprise’ cases, with young people facing very serious charges. 
 
The police also monitor rap music and force the removal of videos from digital platforms and the cancellation of live performances.
 
Overwhelmingly, the young people whose creativity is used as criminal evidence and censored are Black. 
Prosecuting Rap
A growing number of researchers, prisoners, lawyers, musicians, families, activists, commentators, civil liberties groups, youth workers and fans are voicing concern about the way rap is being interpreted and used by police and prosecutors.
 
Rap lyrics sometimes have relevance to particular offences. But many experts and commentators featured on this site consider Black music to be an unreliable and prejudicial form of evidence that readily invokes racist stereotypes and ‘gang’ tropes leading to over-charging and over-conviction. Many also consider the police censorship of rap to be under-accountable and unduly oppressive.
 
Exploring the courtroom life of rap opens a gateway into legal processes affecting vulnerable young people in the criminal legal system. More broadly, the project contextualises the ‘prosecuting rap’ phenomenon in relation to social trends of inequality, racism, marginalisation, incarceration and poverty in contemporary Britain. These trends feed into both rap’s creativity and the state’s response to it.
Credits

This website was created by Eithne Quinn, Professor of Cultural & Socio-Legal Studies at the University of Manchester, and the author, artist and community leader, Franklyn Addo, with original artwork by @DirtyCipher.

Its creation was supported by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) project Prosecuting Rap: Criminal Justice and UK Black Youth Expressive Culture (2020-21) which Eithne led with research associates Latoya Reisner and Dr Kamila Rymajdo.

Input and ideas for the website came from
Dr Abenaa Owusu-Bempah (LSE),
Dr Lambros Fatsis (City),
Dr Anthony Gunter (Open University),
Prof Charis Kubrin (Irvine),
Prof Erik Nielson (Richmond),
Will Pritchard, Dr Kamila Rymajdo (UCLan) and
Dr Joy White (Bedfordshire).

In 2023, the Prosecuting Rap project built a Dataset of Cases, supported by an Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) Impact Acceleration Account grant, which became the report Compound Injustice (E. Quinn, E. Kane, W. Pritchard, 2024). Prosecuting Rap is an associated project of the Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE) and Creative Mcr.

 

Professor Eithne Quinn, University of Manchester

Professor Eithne Quinn, University of Manchester

Newspaper clipping with a photo of a person in hood and balaclava stood next to a man with a hat and sunglasses on. The headline reads ‘Law coming to the defence of UK drill music.’

Legal


Find expert witnesses and access legal scholarship and resources

Handwritten words on paper

Research


Explore scholarship, reports and Prosecuting Rap past events on the criminalisation of rap and young people