Freedom of expression ignored, rapper incriminated for ‘threatening’ lyrics

In past decades, hip-hop music has become notorious for its controversial lyrics. This was no different for California rapper Tiny Doo — except his lyrics may be landing him in jail for a long  time.

According to CNN, San Diego-based rapper Tiny Doo has already spent eight months in prison and now faces between 25 years to a life sentence in prison if convicted under a little-known California statute that makes it illegal to benefit from gang activities.

Tiny Doo has shared his journey with the world like many artists in many different genres have. However, prosecutors view Tiny Doo, whose real name is Brandon Duncan, as a threat that glorifies his dangerous lifestyle in rap lyrics.

Prosecutors point to Tiny Doo’s album “No Safety” and to lyrics like, “Ain’t no safety on this pistol I’m holding” as examples of a “direct correlation to what the gang has been doing.”

For many artists, their music reflects their journey and upbringing. Artists often express their truths and situations through music.

Music allows artists to have no filter and gives them the freedom to talk about any and everything; there are no limitations, nor should there ever be.

Kinesiology freshman Michael Upkong said he doesn’t believe lyrics should be able to incriminate someone.

“I don’t think that’s viable evidence, because a lot of rappers rap about gang violence, so why would this one rapper be sent to jail?” Upkong said. “They’re just lyrics, and you need real concrete evidence or something that proves he is really involved in any type of gang violence.”

While it seems unfair that Tiny Doo would be incriminated because of his lyrics, he is not the first rapper this has happened to. Prosecutors using lyrics against rappers in court is something that happens more often than it should.

It seems like freedom of speech would not be a problem since it is covered under the First Amendment, but hip-hop artists are constantly facing issues when they express themselves through lyrics.

Hip-hop and rap is a vulgar, raw and uncut genre. The message rap artists send may not always be clear because so much of the hip-hop industry is saturated with lyrics talking about violence, drug trafficking, flashy lifestyles and degrading women.

“The studio is my canvas. I’m just painting a picture,” Tiny Doo said. “I’m not telling anybody to go out and kill somebody.”

It is unfair for artists to have their lyrics used against them for any reason. If they aren’t displaying that activity by their actions, it shouldn’t be used against them.

Even more ridiculously, not only are artists facing time for their lyrics, but some fans are receiving time for reciting the lyrics.

According to boston.com, a fan named Anthony Elonis posted violent rants and threats against his estranged wife, schoolchildren and law enforcement on Facebook in 2010. Elonis was found guilty of making threats, and the court sentenced him to 44 months in prison. Elonis appealed to the Supreme Court, where he argued that he didn’t actually intend for his words to be threatening.

The shocking part about this case is the “violent rant” was actually lyrics by superstar rapper, Eminem.

The case has sparked debate, because judges do not want people to think it’s OK to put threatening lyrics online.

“Rap is usually about people’s struggle or what they went through,” Upkong said. “It’s supposed to be hardcore music and, of course, not every rapper has going through all of that struggle that’s in the music. For instance, Drake talks about starting from the bottom … but he was a child actor, so it’s possible he’s making up lyrics to help reach out to his audience.”

Rappers are public figures that represent their audience. Many of them have not lived or no longer live the horrific circumstances they often talk about within their music.

No matter what message artists send out through their music, people must never forget it is first and foremost a form of expression.

Everyone channels their emotions differently. For artists, music is their outlet.

Opinion columnist Faith Alford is a journalism sophomore and may be reached at [email protected].

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