Killer Mike, Big Boi and T.I. inform US Supreme Court on the interpretation of rap lyrics

The Supreme Court is considering a case that hinges on literal/ non-literal intepretation

A selection of high-profile rappers that includes Big Boi, Run The Jewels man Killer Mike, T.I., Pharoahe Monch and Boots Riley are amongst those whose written evidence is being considered by the US Supreme Court, in a case about Mississippi high school student Taylor Bell.

Bell was disciplined by his school in 2011, after he filmed a rap video containing offensive content about two of his teachers, basing the song on accusations of groping that girls at the school had made against two teachers. Bell is trying to get his school record expunged, in part because the filming took place outside of school premises and during the school holidays, Stereogum report, but also because of the interpretation Bell’s lyrics.

The New York Times has reported that the rappers signed an Amicus Brief for the Supreme Court, dealing with the lyrical issues. As part of the brief on literal or non-literal interpretation, it’s explained in the brief that Killer Mike has never actually killed someone.

Mike’s testimony reads:“I see a kid who saw wrong happening and was outraged about it. He wrote a poem about it over a beat. Anyone who is learned in law is capable of separating art and lyrics, whether you agree with them or not, and actual human behavior. I think the courts understand it when it’s Johnny Cash. I think they understand it when it’s Robert Nesta [Bob] Marley.”


Killer Mike said the different approach to rap, “persecutes poor young men based on their class and color.”

Bell’s original case against the school asked for $1, with the case viewed more as making a point than looking for any compensation. It’s widely viewed as unlikely that the supreme course will actually look at the case after reading the brief. The New York Times points out that the school has been in the news before, when they cancelled a 2010 prom rather than allow a lesbian student to attend with her girlfriend.

The challenge is based on the American First Amendment (freedom of speech), with Bell himself saying:

“The song does carry a lot of strong, vulgar language. If you don’t really listen to hip-hop music, sometimes that language can kind of blur the message of what you’re trying to get across.”