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Squires: Would Rep. Jamaal Bowman support the RAP Act if country songs described hate crimes against black men?
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Squires: Would Rep. Jamaal Bowman support the RAP Act if country songs described hate crimes against black men?

If it was up to Rep. Jamaal Bowman, a country music star accused of a hate crime couldn’t have the lyrics to his hit song “Hang 'Em High” used as evidence in court.

This is the logical conclusion of Bowman’s reintroduction of the Restoring Artistic Protection Act, which would protect hip-hop artists from having their lyrics used against them in criminal cases. Democrat Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia joined Bowman and Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. on Thursday to argue that the RAP Act is needed to protect artists from violations of their First Amendment rights.

The bill would allow some lyrics to be used as evidence if prosecutors can prove a literal – rather than figurative – meaning, but it isn’t hard to see how easily that loophole could be exploited. Bowman acknowledged the RAP Act would protect other artists as well.

“It’s not just about rap and hip-hop,” Bowman said. “The minute we start saying, ‘You can’t use those rap lyrics,’ we’re gonna start saying, ‘You can’t use those country lyrics. You can’t use those rock lyrics.’ God forbid the wrong person gets into the White House and starts targeting heavy metal or another genre of music.”

Bowman has a penchant for using “white supremacy” to describe everything he doesn’t like, including the filibuster, the Electoral College, and student loan debt. This is why I find it hard to believe he would publicly defend a prosecutor’s refusal to use the words of a country-western artist who is facing trial for terrorizing a black man in the Deep South.

C. Delores Tucker and Rev. Calvin Butts led a campaign in the 1990s to bring attention to the self-destructive turn rap was taking by embracing violence and degradation as key features of the genre. The artists, including Tupac Shakur, dismissed their concerns. Hip-hop has gotten even more violent and vulgar in subsequent decades.

Drill music is a sub-genre of hip-hop that originated in Chicago in the 2010s and was popularized by the rapper Chief Keef. Since then, drill has grown in popularity in other regions, and many songs simply sound like young men bragging about actual crimes they’ve committed.

A recent gang bust in New York City provides a powerful example of how art and life imitate one another. The New York PD arrested over 30 people in connection to a series of violent crimes that were allegedly perpetrated by two rival gangs in South Jamaica, Queens. The feud between the Money World and the Local Trap Stars started with a slashing in April 2019 and escalated after a 14-year-old boy named Amir Griffin was shot and killed in October that year.

Griffin was a promising young basketball player who happened to go to Benjamin Cardozo – my old high school. He lived in Baisley Park Houses, a public housing project in Queens, and was killed on the basketball courts while playing with a friend.

One interesting tidbit from this case was the NYPD’s contention that the gang members used drill music and social media to taunt their opposition (i.e., “opps”). They allegedly rapped about the locations of the crimes, identities of people who were shot, and even the caliber of handguns they used to commit crimes.

A song from Money World called “Dead Opps” included the line “AG got shot in his face.” I’m not a detective, and I don’t have enough evidence to definitively say who “AG” is, but I do know Amir Griffin’s fatal wound has been described in different publications as being in his upper torso or neck. This seems like the type of detail prosecutors would not be able to reference at trial if the RAP Act becomes law.

The Queens gang takedown is a repudiation of every defund-the-police ideologue and social commentator who denies the negative influences within hip-hop culture. The lack of coverage from the people and platforms that claim to care about black lives is disappointing but hardly surprising.

There is a faction of both black liberals and black conservatives who refuse to be honest about the impact that music has on culture, culture has on values, and values have on behavior. They are willing to justify anything that hip-hop artists say or do in the name of capitalism and social justice.

The sad fact remains that hip-hop culture is a microcosm of the communities that created it. Many young men in South Jamaica and the South Bronx grow up without the consistent presence and guidance of their fathers. The same dynamic exists within hip-hop. The patriarchs of rap music are either absent, silent, or willing to co-sign the younger artists who have made drill music into up-tempo blood ballads.

Men like Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, and Jay-Z not only can’t control their “sons” in the rap game, but some eagerly endorse the rappers whose only skill is promoting murder. Even elected officials like Jamaal Bowman and Hank Johnson show that green is the main color they care about. This is what happens when a genre casts off morals in pursuit of the almighty dollar.

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