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Use Of Rap And Drill Music As Evidence In Criminal Courts

Following my attendance at a Youth Justice Legal Centre (YJLC) event titled “Youth Justice Lawyers in London,” I found myself particularly captivated by the discussion surrounding the utilisation of drill and rap music in court proceedings. A campaign known as “Art Not Evidence” advocates against the use of rap music as evidence in criminal trials. This initiative arose in response to the utilisation of rap lyrics and snippets from music videos to secure convictions against ten teenagers from Manchester for conspiracy to commit murder and grievous bodily harm.

Current Law on use of Rap and Drill music as evidence

R v Lewis and others 2014 EWCA Crim 48 outlined the guidelines in regards to the inclusion of rap or drill material within a criminal trial. There are four points a judge must review:

  1. Is the evidence relevant to an important matter an issue between a defendant and the prosecution?
  2. Is there proper evidence of the existence and nature of the gang or gangs?
  3. Does the evidence, if accepted, go to show the defendant was a member of or associated with a gang or gangs which exhibited violence or hostility to the police or links with firearms?
  4. If the evidence is admitted, will it have such an adverse effect on fairness of the proceedings that it ought to be excluded?

R v Adebola Alimi 2014 EWCA Crim 2412 highlighted that the role of individuals within the music video is crucial. The Alimi case involved a group of alleged gang members who had opened fire at police officers in a vehicle. Rap music videos, from the accused, were used as evidence of gang membership. However, Alimi was simply an extra within the video and did not sing any “gang related” lyrics as the prosecution suggested. In regards to the admissibility of the evidence the court of appeal ruled in favour of the defendant on this occasion.

Rap and Drill music can be relied on by the prosecution in numerous ways, in line with current authority:

  • As bad character evidence- described as “reprehensible conduct” under s12 CJA 2003
  • Joint enterprise or material to a matter in the case – facts of the offence under s98 CJA 2003 – used as evidence of gang affiliation.
  • Criminal behaviour orders (CBOs) imposed as a form of cultural censorship.

How can defence lawyers challenge the admission of this evidence?

  1. By considering the evidence and how directly attributable it is to your client. In cases involving rap and drill videos, consider the defendant’s actual role in the video and the extent of their participation.
  2. Inviting the judge to exercise their discretion not to admit the evidence due to its potential prejudicial nature. Such arguments can be bolstered by instructing academic / cultural experts and relying on academic research or commentary pointing to the disproportionate impact of the use of this evidence on young Black men and the extent to which it relies on the use of racial stereotypes.
  3. Ensuring that the issue of whether the rap or drill music is in fact art is fully argued before the jury.
  4. Ensuring that the admitted material is limited strictly to what is relevant – for example, an entire video need not be played if a screenshot or part(s) of the video will suffice; or an entire rap song need not be played if a specific passage will do.
  5. The Crown Prosecution Service will often rely on the police expert opinion to provide ‘guidance’ for the jury as to the interpretation and meaning of the rap and drill lyrics. Defence lawyers must ensure that the expert evidence in question satisfies the criteria of the CrimPR Part 19 ‘Expert evidence’ and CrimPD Division V Part 19A. Defence lawyers can challenge the police as experts – police are often unqualified as experts and can just propagate racist stereotypes.


Digga D, the renowned drill rapper, recently shared his candid insights into the challenges posed by the Criminal Behaviour Order (CBO) on his music career. The CBO imposes strict regulations, compelling him to report to the police within 24 hours of releasing new music. In a revealing Channel 4 interview, Digga D expressed initial doubts about his ability to continue creating music under these constraints, emphasising that the issue lies not in the music itself but in the unfair scrutiny faced by “young black boys.”

This situation sheds light on the pervasive systemic racism evident in condemning individuals based on their association with drill music, a genre deeply rooted in black cultural heritage. Responding to the argument that drill music can incite violence, Digga D challenged the notion that lyrics alone can dictate behaviour. Drawing a parallel with video games like Call of Duty, known for their intense violence, he highlighted how they are not typically cited in legal proceedings.

In one of the lectures at the event it was emphasised that music serves as a therapeutic and expressive outlet across various genres. However, in the realm of Drill and Rap music, artists like Digga D face unique challenges, as their experiences are often perceived as even more distressing. It’s crucial to recognize that these artists have lived through these experiences, particularly in the context of ongoing struggles with men’s mental health.

Imposing restrictions on how men express their emotions through music may have detrimental effects on their mental well-being. Instead of hindering their chosen form of communication, there is an opportunity to acknowledge the circumstances these young men may have been exposed to or experienced. This perspective is especially pertinent in addressing the hurdles men face when discussing their traumas openly.

In conclusion, the notion that music alone can deter individuals from engaging in criminal activities seems to lack a solid foundation, overlooking decades of research that pinpoint root causes of crime left unaddressed. The compelling arguments advocating for a reform in the existing laws concerning the incorporation of rap or drill music in criminal proceedings demand attention and recognition. It’s essential to delve into a more nuanced understanding of the complex factors contributing to criminal behaviour rather than unfairly scapegoating a specific genre of music. By doing so, we can work towards a justice system that is both fair and effective in addressing the multifaceted challenges surrounding criminality.

If you need advice or assistance in relation to the criminal law, and how it interacts with drill or other musical genres, please contact us on 0808 271 9413 to speak with one of our criminal defence experts in this area. Or request a callback online. 

The co-author of this blog is Lauren McKinnon, a Crime Support Assistant.

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