Concerns over rap music used as criminal evidence

updated on 10 May 2024

Reading time: two minutes

Rap music is regularly used as criminal evidence in cases in England and Wales – which could lead to unjust prosecutions, as highlighted by a recent report by the University of Manchester.

The report, which was published in April, outlines how the use of rap and drill music content as criminal evidence is often unfairly prejudicial and disproportionately affects ethnic minorities, with Black people being the main target of prosecution.

Declared as the most comprehensive review of rap music-assisted cases to date, the report found that:

  • 68 cases included rap evidence, of which a total of 252 individuals were charged;
  • 15% of defendants in the dataset were children (17 years and under) and 67% were young people (18-24);
  • 84% of defendants across the dataset were ethnic minorities, with 66% being Black; and
  • nearly two-thirds (63%) of the cases involving rap evidence had a prosecution gang narrative.

The review covered cases between 1 January 2020 and 31 December 2023, but it’s important to note that it doesn’t include all eligible cases in the period. While not fully representative, the findings reveal the issue’s magnitude and a prosecution strategy informed by prejudice.

The report reveals that rap music is typically not used as direct evidence for convictions. Instead, involvement in rap music culture, whether as a composer or performer, most often serves to imply a defendant’s ‘bad’ character and/or violent behaviour.

Rap and drill music, in particular, are conventionally associated with themes of violence, gang activity and anti-social behaviour. Young Black men are most often prosecuted in cases where such material is used as evidence in trials, revealing a disproportionate targeting of certain groups to secure convictions.

According to the report, there are instances where the content from music used as evidence was completely irrelevant and led to serious charges such as murder.

Deputy legal director of JUSTICE, Tyrone Steele, referred to the growing concerns that allowing rap music as evidence in court leads to biased and unfair judgement, stating: ‘‘Rap music is one of the most popular genres of music in the UK – it’s time to end the marginalisation and punishment of its creators through its use as prosecution evidence.’’

As of yet, the government has made minimal efforts to regulate and monitor the issue.