Let's say you're a rapper. Not a very good rapper, but a rapper in Portland who's featured in two videos rapping about prostitution and how you're such a great pimp. You post them online. Then, you're indicted on real-life charges of pimping, with multiple women testifying that you forced them into prostitution. Can those YouTube rap videos be used against you in court?
Today, the state appeals court made a decision on just that question. The case (pdf) revolves around Lashawn Mcintrye, who was charged with pimping out two Portland women. The alleged crimes are awful—beating young women, demanding they turn tricks, taking their money, and threatening to kill them if they reported anything to the police.
During the investigation, prosecutors discovered that Mcintyre is featured in two music videos posted on YouTube hanging out on a yacht and rapping about—what else?—pimping. The lyrics for these videos are so bad that they're worth posting here. The song in question "Pimp'n (All I Know)" may be the first and only song in history to equate sex trafficking with the Build-A-Bear workshop.
"Cause pimp'n is all I know about
Pimp'n is all I talk about
It's pimp'n, it's pimp'n, it's pimp'n
Pimp'n over here, pimp'n over there, pimp'n on a bitch, everywhere
The mall, the zoo, and the state fair
The car on the ground, and the plane in the air
Lions and tigers and pimps, oh yeah
Hoing ain't easy and life ain't fair
Your feet hurt bitch, I don't care
Get dressed, get ready, and do your hair
What do I look like, a sucker-ass square?
All my money, bitch, I don't share
I build-a-bitch, like build-a-bear."
These God-awful lyrics are not the ones delivered in the video by the defendant (those are below the cut), but the case is an interesting example of when a defendant's art can be used as evidence in court.
As the public defender on the appeals case, Zack Mazer, says, "What about Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues"? Does that mean Johnny Cash wants to go around shooting people in Reno? If you can't tell the intention, it's not the best evidence to use in a courtroom."
Usually, courts can only admit things as evidence if they're very specifically related to the crime in question. Mazer sums up: "We want to convict someone because of their conduct at a specific date and time, not because we don't like them or because of what they did on some other day. That's the fundamental rule in this case."
The line between art and evidence here is a shaky one and it's relevant to all sorts of cases. In order to get the terrible rap videos in as evidence, the state would need to show that the songs show the defendant's motive to commit the specific crimes he's accused of. Here are the lines Mcintyre raps in the songs:
"'This isn't the fucking Villa ni**er. This is what it mother fucking do, ni**er. Mac Shawn, understand it bitches. Don't fuck with me. I want all the dough, I want all the shit. We're doing some moving, bitch.'"
"'We want all the shit. * * * Trying to knock your bitch, I'm going to knock your bitch, ni**er.'"
"'We're out here, bitch. I'm fitting to take that bitch, ni**er. You better hide her, ni**er."
And the state's argument:
"In those videos, defendant and others hold themselves out as pimps, declare their reasons for engaging in the prostitution trade, and generally extol the virtues of pimping. Defendant makes several specific statements in the videos about his reason for engaging in the prostitution trade (to make money) and some of his tactics as a pimp (that he steals prostitutes from other pimps). The videos are relevant to show defendant's intent to promote prostitution."
The appeals court determined that the videos were not relevant because they don't prove he had any involvement in prostitution. He raps about the reasons for being a pimp and tactics that pimps use in general terms, but doesn't provide specific enough details to show that he actually engaged in those behaviors.
Whether or not Mcintyre will actually be convicted of pimping remains to be seen—the trial has been on hold until the question of admitting these videos was settled. But this decision adds another case to a docket that protects people who make art—even terrible art—from being convicted of crimes based on the content that art.