The 2022 arrest and indictment of hip-hop stars Young Thug (Jeffery Williams) and Gunna (Sergio Kitchens) stunned the hip-hop world and reignited a national conversation about the use of lyrics in the courtroom. For some, the lyrics were evidence of potential wrongdoing. But for others, the case spotlighted a disturbing trend of criminalizing Black art that goes back decades, prompting a national movement to protect art and creative expression. A new ABC News Studios documentary hour, “Rap Trap: Hip-Hop on Trial,” explores the criminal case against the rappers and asks the question: Should rap lyrics be used in criminal prosecutions, and what effect would that have on artists’ free speech rights?
The documentary dives into historical perceptions of the genre and other examples of when lyrics have been used against an artist in the courtroom, including the case of activist and rapper McKinley Phipps Jr., who served 21 years in prison for a crime he says he did not commit. Phipps and his family open up about the lasting impact of incarceration and the healing power of art. “Rap Trap: Hip-Hop on Trial” also features interviews with hip-hop artists will.i.am, Jerrika Karlae, Fat Joe and Killer Mike, who reflect on the importance of protecting and standing up for artists’ right to express themselves. Additional interviews include Kevin Liles, co-founder and CEO of 300 Elektra Entertainment, who spearheaded the “Protect Black Art” movement; scholar Michael Eric Dyson; and Erik Nielson, co-author of “Rap on Trial.” “Rap Trap: Hip-Hop on Trial” begins streaming Thursday, Feb. 23, only on Hulu.
“Rap Trap: Hip-Hop on Trial” is produced for Hulu by ABC News Studios.