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Despite the First Amendment to the United States Constitution providing sweeping protections for the words we speak, one rapper, Mayhem Mal, was actually arrested and jailed due to his music’s lyrics.
Those lyrics were construed as threats against police officers, and in case you didn’t know, the First Amendment’s protection for speech are in fact limited. Generally, yes, people can say whatever they please, but when it comes to things like threatening violence or yelling fire in a crowded theater, the First Amendment is powerless.
Arrested Over Lyrics
Mayhem Mal’s song, titled “F*** the Police,” contains some rather detailed descriptions of how he and his crew would fight and kill cops. Additionally, the song names two officers that were expected to testify against Mayhem Mal and a co-defendant, stemming from their arrest on gun and drug charges. Curiously, as a result of the song, Mayhem Mal faced additional criminal charges, and was convicted. On appeal, the conviction was upheld, which prompted an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Even though the music industry stepped up to defend Mayhem Mal in an amicus brief (a friend of the court brief), which included the support of such noted artists as Chance the Rapper, Killer Mike, Fat Joe, 21 Savage and others, the Supreme Court refused to take up the case. The artists supported the notion that what Mayhem Mal said in his song is no different than what other rappers say or do, and that no reasonable listener of rap music would understand the purported threats to be real threats.
Testament to the Music
While we may not be the final, best, or even credible, arbiters of what constitutes good rap music, Mayhem Mal definitely has something going on with the track that sent him to jail. You can listen to it on his official YouTube channel, but be warned, the lyrics are explicit and contain adult, violent, and sexual language.