Killer Mike has co-written a op-ed for CNN with University Of Richmond associate professor Erik Nielson urging the Supreme Court to hear and rule on Bell v. Itawamba County School Board. The piece is titled: “Free speech — unless it’s rap?” The case, which is being considered for the docket this year, concerns Taylor Bell, who was a Missisippi high school senior that was suspended for recording a rap song that accused two of his coaches of sexual misconduct.
“And yet after Bell appealed his punishment, arguing that his song was being misrepresented, the School Board upheld his suspension on the grounds that he had ‘threatened, harassed, and intimidated” school employees,” the two explain in the op-ed. “The School Board’s misguided decision was later upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in a divided opinion.”
Killer Mike, Big Boi, T.I., and more signed an amicus brief this past December expressing support for a reruling of the case. Here’s some more from the op-ed:
Bell certainly uses this type of language in his song, at times directing it at specific individuals, but in doing so he is following a long line of platinum-selling rappers — including Ice Cube, Eminem, Nas and Jay Z — who have built careers and made millions doing the same thing.
Throughout those careers, none of their fans ever believed that Ice Cube would kill former Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates, that Eminem would kill his wife, Kim, or that Nas and Jay Z would kill each other — all claims the rappers made in their songs.
Likewise, we don’t assume that Quentin Tarantino, Stephen King or Johnny Cash carry out the (sometimes extreme) violence depicted in their art — because we acknowledge it as art.
But as we have noted before, rap is often denied that respect, particularly in the criminal justice system, where amateur rappers, almost always young men of color who lack the name recognition (and bank accounts) of their professional counterparts, are routinely prosecuted for their music, either because people believe that rap should be read literally or because they just don’t like it.