Charis Kubrin

Speaker: Charis Kubrin, Professor, Department of Criminology, Law and Society, University of California, Irvine

Date: Tuesday, September 12, 2017
Time: 3:30 PM
Place: Procrastinator Theater, Strand Union Building

Title: Rap on Trial

Sponsoring department: Sociology & Anthropology

Summary: In criminal proceedings across the U.S., rap music lyrics are being introduced as evidence of a defendant’s guilt. In this talk, Kubrin will draw attention to this disturbing practice of what she calls “rap on trial,” and explore its context, describe its elements and contours, and consider its broader significance. Kubrin will provide historical context, demonstrating that although the widespread use of rap lyrics in criminal trials may be a relatively recent phenomenon, it resides within a long tradition of antagonism between the legal establishment and hip hop culture, one that can be traced back to hip hop’s earliest roots. She will also offer examples of recent cases in which rap music has been used as evidence in trials against amateur rappers, almost all of whom are young men of color, in order to illustrate the specific ways that prosecutors present the music to judges and juries, as well as to highlight the devastating effects it can have on defendants. She will also discuss the elements of rap music that leave it vulnerable to judicial abuse. Finally, she will present experimental research that examines how rap lyrics impact decision-making as well as discuss the artistic, racial and legal ramifications of using this particular genre of music to put people in jail. Kubrin will conclude with recommendations for further research in this area, pointing out specific areas where scholarship would most effectively expose what it means to put rap on trial.

About the speaker: Charis E. Kubrin is Professor of Criminology, Law and Society and (by courtesy) Sociology at the University of California, Irvine. She is co-author or co-editor of five books and has published dozens of journal articles, many of which focus on the intersection of music, culture and social identity, particularly as it applies to hip-hop and minority youth in disadvantaged communities. She is a frequent media contributor whose writing has been featured in the The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Forbes and CNN. She is co-author of two amicus briefs on rap music that were filed with the U.S. Supreme Court (Elonis v. U.S.; Bell v. Itawamba County School Board) and has served as an expert witness and consultant in multiple criminal cases involving rap music as evidence of alleged underlying criminal activity. Charis gave a TEDx talk, The Threatening Nature of…Rap Music?, on the use of rap lyrics as evidence in criminal trials. In 2005, Charis received the American Society of Criminology’s Ruth Shonle Cavan Young Scholar Award and in 2014 she received The Coramae Richey Mann Award from the American Society of Criminology’s Division on People of Color and Crime in recognition of her outstanding contributions to scholarship on race, crime and justice.