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Behind bars: how rap lyrics are being used to convict Black British men | Rap

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On 6 February 2020, around 11.15am, a 16-year-old boy stepped out of Brighton’s Regent Hotel and walked towards the terraced green of Regency Square. He had with him a handful of small, pebble-sized packages, some bound in blue plastic, the others in white. The different colours let him know which contained heroin, and which cocaine. Plain clothes police officers watching the boy soon discovered another 115 similar wraps in the hotel room he had been staying in.

Just over a year later, at the crown court in Lewes, a jury convicted the boy, who had been sent to Brighton by a north London gang known as the Mali Boys, of two counts of being concerned in the supply of Class A drugs.

James (not his real name) had been placed into care early in his teens, the court had heard, and subjected to abuse in the years before that. He’d been arrested in the past, and had moved and sold drugs for other gangs from north London, venturing as far as Norfolk with their packages. James is also autistic. His lawyers suggested this would have made him more susceptible to being drawn into criminality by these gangs.

He and two other young men admitted to selling drugs in Brighton, but claimed in their defence that they were victims of modern slavery – exploited by the Mali Boys to distribute its drugs and collect the proceeds. The two other teenagers were acquitted, but James’s defence was rejected by the prosecution. The court had been shown a rap video in which James could be seen dancing while alleged Mali Boys members traded verses over a brooding drill beat. This proved, the prosecuting barrister argued, that the boy was a willing associate of the gang. The boy said this wasn’t the case. He said he’d joined in with the filming because he thought it would be fun. He didn’t know what the song was about. He was just dancing.

James is just one of more than 240 people in the UK – almost all young, black men – whose fate in court over the past three years has been decided in part by their taste in rap music. Rap materials making their way into UK courtrooms can be professionally recorded tracks, but often consist of little more than throwaway lyrics in iPhone notes or derivative scribbles in teenagers’ notebooks – still enough for prosecutors to win convictions.

When contacted by the Guardian, the Crown Prosecution Service says that it “has never prosecuted anybody solely on the basis of their involvement with drill/rap music” but that “drill/rap music may be of specific relevance to the case against a suspect, in which case it may be used as evidence.”

New research, conducted in partnership with the University of Manchester’s Prosecuting Rap project, has identified more than 70 trials from 2020-2023 in which rap evidence including lyrics, music videos and audio recordings has been used by police and prosecutors to build their cases. Previous research spanning a period five times as long, between 2005 and 2020, uncovered 67 cases. This increased appearance of rap in courtrooms suggests authorities have latched on to the approach as one that can secure convictions with juries – seemingly without concern for the possibly prejudicial nature of such evidence.

For UK police and prosecutors today, “music helps open a pathway to conviction”, says Eithne Quinn, professor of cultural studies at the University of Manchester and lead on the Prosecuting Rap project. She’s particularly worried by “the young age and high average number of defendants in cases in which rap is sought to be used. Children and young adults are being drawn into rap-fuelled group charges in which there is often one principal offence committed by one individual.”

In drill rap, performers taunting others and referring in verses, often callously, to specific instances of real-world violence is not unheard of. But even in these cases, it remains a stretch to prove that such wordplay directly results in violence. Those who oppose the use of the practice say that, more often, rap is introduced as a sprinkle of prejudice across proceedings. In James’s case, his mere presence in a video was seemingly enough to colour his character for the court.

Following a successful appeal based on the original judge’s mishandling of the modern slavery defence, James’s convictions were quashed. But in a 2020 analysis of earlier use of rap evidence in UK courts, Dr Abenaa Owusu-Bempah, an associate professor of law at the London School of Economics, found just one instance in which the use of such evidence was successfully appealed.

Young Thug performing in 2021 – the US rapper is being tried for numerous crimes, with his lyrics being used by the prosecution. Photograph: Amy Harris/Invision/AP

High-profile trials like the one currently involving US chart-topping rapper Young Thug draw attention to this issue; Jay-Z is among the artists behind a prominent campaign for rap lyrics not to be admissible as evidence in the US. But in the UK, most instances go unreported, and there could be many more than those uncovered here. Save for the testimony of witnesses, the grousing of barristers and solicitors, or police officers posting about their exploits on social media, researchers are left to rely on the publication of appeal judgments and reports from local media – neither of which are guaranteed to include mention of rap evidence.

James’s case is emblematic of how rap evidence has been used in UK courts over the past three years. Firstly, in that it involves young men (almost half of the cases recorded in the research featured defendants yet to turn 18). Secondly, in that prosecutors relied on a gang narrative to shape their case, an approach often involving controversial joint enterprise laws. And thirdly, in the use of what is known as a “bad character application” to have the Mali Boys music video included in the evidence shown to the jury. These applications are used when prosecutors (or occasionally defence teams) want to introduce evidence of previous offences or, more vaguely, of a “disposition towards misconduct”. Typically, this would include things such as previous, similar convictions – but it has also become one of the most common routes by which rap evidence ends up in front of juries.

James was alleged to be a gang associate based on his presence in the Mali Boys music video. Definitions of “associate”, “affiliate” and “member” – and the difference between them in relation to gangs – remain slippery in the justice system, where there is still no consensus on defining what a gang is. This, defence teams say, makes it easier for prosecutors to apply the term in broad strokes, and to benefit from the prejudice it invites. “Few words provoke as much bias among a jury as ‘gang’,” wrote criminal barrister Oliver Mosley in 2021 (Mosley has prosecuted drill artists himself in the past).

The word “drill” can have a similarly provocative effect: during the 2020 trial of Daniel Lena, the popular rapper Unknown T who had been accused (and was later acquitted) of murder, concerns were raised in court about specific references being made to drill music, owing to the “substantial prejudice” that mentions of the genre attract.

Unknown T performing in April 2022.
Unknown T performing in April 2022. Photograph: Lorne Thomson/Redferns

Drawing clear conclusions on the motives of drill rappers – particularly ones that could form solid evidence – is made almost impossible by the way in which bold claims, aggressive boasts, local gossip, and provocation are woven into the fabric of the genre. Fans living vicariously through the outlaw tales portrayed in drill songs flock to reaction videos and street gossip channels on YouTube and other social media platforms, further boosting artists’ online clout and notoriety – and muddying the already grey waters of what might be true and what is not. Documents reviewed by the Guardian show how the comment sections under these channels, as well as discussions on Reddit, are in turn mined for evidence by police officers, in spite of the flimsy, unreliable nature of these sources.

James’s case was heard in Lewes, a town in Sussex better known for its vigorous Bonfire Night celebrations than hardcore rap offshoots. This too is indicative of a shift revealed by the Prosecuting Rap research.

While the bulk of rap evidence still crops up in London and its network of crown courts, the research uncovers hearings involving rap in locations as widespread as Leicester, Warwick, St Albans and Derby. “When we think of the use of rap in court cases, we tend to think first of London and the Met police,” says Quinn, “but what also emerges is that rap music is actually a courtroom soundtrack across the country.” Trials were also identified in Sheffield, Winchester, Bradford, and Nottingham, as well as major cities including Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham. “Disturbingly,” says Quinn, “evidence suggests there is even less oversight and scrutiny of this practice outside of the capital.”

Quinn’s highlighting of the Met’s role in the uptake of rap evidence is pertinent.

The Prosecuting Rap research reveals a pattern in which police officers are put forward by prosecutors to act as rap experts in court. Typically, these police witnesses will draw links between lyrics and real life crimes, and between music and gang membership. They offer translations of slang and provide their own interpretations of the meaning behind songs and music videos. (Examples of translations seen by the Guardian included inaccuracies, such as the word “ting”, despite its breadth of possible meanings in different contexts, being singularly interpreted as “gun”.)

The provision of some of these experts can be linked with the Met’s Project Alpha unit, an online surveillance initiative established in 2019 and funded by the Home Office. One of Project Alpha’s core activities involves referring rap videos it deems dangerous to be taken down by YouTube. Last year, according to figures released in response to a Freedom of Information request, 1,825 requests from Project Alpha resulted in 1,636 rap videos being removed.

Until late 2022, Project Alpha’s efforts targeting drill music – under the banner of “Online Harm Referrals” – were led by an officer named Michael Railton. Under Railton, the scope of this work was expanded to include other social media platforms beyond YouTube, and to lobby national radio stations and record labels. This would culminate, in 2022, with Meta’s Oversight Board – the group of academics, legal professionals, journalists and former politicians to whom the tech giant has devolved responsibility for its most contentious content moderation decisions – being tasked with considering whether Instagram should have cowed to pressure from the Met in removing 164 separate posts featuring a clip of a song by London drill rapper Chinx (OS). The board ruled against Instagram’s decision, stating in its judgment that “while law enforcement can sometimes provide context and expertise, not every piece of content that law enforcement would prefer to have taken down should be taken down.” Noting that Project Alpha’s requests had focused solely on drill music, the Board suggested that the Met’s “intensive focus on one music genre among many that include reference to violence raises serious concerns of potential over-policing of certain communities”.

Police in attendance as rapper Digga D films a video in Piccadilly Circus.
Police in attendance as rapper Digga D films a video in Piccadilly Circus. Photograph: Stephen Chung/Alamy

A spokesperson for the Met did not address the board’s comments directly, instead telling the Guardian:“Project Alpha aims to develop intelligence from social media platforms linked to offline gang violence and serious and organised crime, as we want to use all opportunities to prevent Londoners being victims of violent crime. The Met works only to identify and remove content which incites or encourages violence; it does not seek to suppress freedom of expression through any kind of music.” Since February 2023, age and ethnicity data has been recorded “where identifiable” by Project Alpha officers.

Railton, for his part, says that over-policing of any community was “never the intention” and that he never set out to demonise any one genre of music or group of people. “All I want them to do is to be able to put out music which is socially responsible and that doesn’t play into the further perpetuation of the downward spiral of their community and themselves,” he says.

In 2021, PC Railton helped lead an initiative called Project Insight, which prepares police to act as expert witnesses, providing courts with commentary on “urban street gangs” and the use of slang (including when it appears in music). Railton’s initial cohort of police-trained expert witnesses numbered 18 individuals. According to the UK’s Criminal Procedure Rules, the overriding duty of expert witnesses is to provide the court with testimony that is objective and unbiased. Academics and defence lawyers have questioned whether police officers can act as truly independent experts, given their proximity to prosecutions. Beyond issues of independence, others have questioned the degree to which police officers – who are trained to view events through a criminological lens – are able to interpret rap materials in a manner that gets anywhere near to the heart of what an author may have intended or, indeed, how songs and videos are consumed by fans of the music, their intended audience.

Railton says he holds himself to the “gold standard” of independence when acting as an expert witness, and that he welcomes the scrutiny that the role entails. He also argues that police officers are often the best placed to offer expertise to the court when it comes to decoding rap lyrics.

Professor Quinn disagrees. “Police officers themselves typically act as rap experts in these cases. But their interpretations are too often shaped by what legal scholars call ‘flawed inferences’ rooted in pre-existing beliefs about young black men and criminality, as well as a pro-prosecution stance,” she says. “With the Casey Review’s finding of institutional racism in the Met, the danger of fielding police officers as ‘neutral’ experts is stark. The interpretations of rap lyrics presented to jurors, who tend to know nothing (and certainly nothing positive) about this provocative music, can be crucial to court case verdicts.” The Met did not offer the Guardian any comment on its provision of police officers as rap experts.

Increasingly, the format in which rap lyrics are presented in UK courts follows templates designed by PC Railton, which he describes on his LinkedIn profile as “jury friendly evidential products” (he left the Met at the end of last year, and now runs a private consultancy offering expert witness training). These templates present lyrics, the officer’s direct translations, and their interpretations of those translations in adjacent columns, and strip the materials of all context of how they might otherwise be presented (recorded or performed over a beat, for instance), and the fact that, ultimately, these are artistic expressions. Railton says that how experts present their evidence is a matter of individual choice, but expresses some pride in the way that his templates “step the jury through” the evidence and “dissolve the hyperlocal context out of the music”.

In January last year, the Crown Prosecution Service said it would be reviewing how rap evidence can be used in court. However, a later announcement in June, about a new “pioneering ‘gangs’ unit” based in Birmingham, appeared to double down on the admissibility of drill evidence, noting a number of new cases in which lyrics had been successfully put before juries. The full results of the review are yet to be published. Updated guidance, “which sets out the issues for prosecutors to consider regarding the use of drill music as evidence”, is due to be published later this year. The CPS declined to name any of the organisations it had approached to take part in its public consultation on the matter.

In the face of this, barristers, youth workers, and music industry representatives in the UK are beginning to rally efforts for legislative and legal advisory changes, similar to those recently enacted in the US, which have curbed the use of creative expressions in courtrooms and seen unfair convictions overturned.

In a social media post of his own last December, in response to a story published by the Guardian, former PC Railton noted his pride in the role police officers have played in the history of UK drill music. “There is no show without the stand we have taken. I am massively proud to have generated such vital discussion,” he wrote. James would perhaps disagree with him on that count. At the Crown Prosecution Service, meanwhile, the jury remains out.


On 6 February 2020, around 11.15am, a 16-year-old boy stepped out of Brighton’s Regent Hotel and walked towards the terraced green of Regency Square. He had with him a handful of small, pebble-sized packages, some bound in blue plastic, the others in white. The different colours let him know which contained heroin, and which cocaine. Plain clothes police officers watching the boy soon discovered another 115 similar wraps in the hotel room he had been staying in.

Just over a year later, at the crown court in Lewes, a jury convicted the boy, who had been sent to Brighton by a north London gang known as the Mali Boys, of two counts of being concerned in the supply of Class A drugs.

James (not his real name) had been placed into care early in his teens, the court had heard, and subjected to abuse in the years before that. He’d been arrested in the past, and had moved and sold drugs for other gangs from north London, venturing as far as Norfolk with their packages. James is also autistic. His lawyers suggested this would have made him more susceptible to being drawn into criminality by these gangs.

He and two other young men admitted to selling drugs in Brighton, but claimed in their defence that they were victims of modern slavery – exploited by the Mali Boys to distribute its drugs and collect the proceeds. The two other teenagers were acquitted, but James’s defence was rejected by the prosecution. The court had been shown a rap video in which James could be seen dancing while alleged Mali Boys members traded verses over a brooding drill beat. This proved, the prosecuting barrister argued, that the boy was a willing associate of the gang. The boy said this wasn’t the case. He said he’d joined in with the filming because he thought it would be fun. He didn’t know what the song was about. He was just dancing.

James is just one of more than 240 people in the UK – almost all young, black men – whose fate in court over the past three years has been decided in part by their taste in rap music. Rap materials making their way into UK courtrooms can be professionally recorded tracks, but often consist of little more than throwaway lyrics in iPhone notes or derivative scribbles in teenagers’ notebooks – still enough for prosecutors to win convictions.

When contacted by the Guardian, the Crown Prosecution Service says that it “has never prosecuted anybody solely on the basis of their involvement with drill/rap music” but that “drill/rap music may be of specific relevance to the case against a suspect, in which case it may be used as evidence.”

New research, conducted in partnership with the University of Manchester’s Prosecuting Rap project, has identified more than 70 trials from 2020-2023 in which rap evidence including lyrics, music videos and audio recordings has been used by police and prosecutors to build their cases. Previous research spanning a period five times as long, between 2005 and 2020, uncovered 67 cases. This increased appearance of rap in courtrooms suggests authorities have latched on to the approach as one that can secure convictions with juries – seemingly without concern for the possibly prejudicial nature of such evidence.

For UK police and prosecutors today, “music helps open a pathway to conviction”, says Eithne Quinn, professor of cultural studies at the University of Manchester and lead on the Prosecuting Rap project. She’s particularly worried by “the young age and high average number of defendants in cases in which rap is sought to be used. Children and young adults are being drawn into rap-fuelled group charges in which there is often one principal offence committed by one individual.”

In drill rap, performers taunting others and referring in verses, often callously, to specific instances of real-world violence is not unheard of. But even in these cases, it remains a stretch to prove that such wordplay directly results in violence. Those who oppose the use of the practice say that, more often, rap is introduced as a sprinkle of prejudice across proceedings. In James’s case, his mere presence in a video was seemingly enough to colour his character for the court.

Following a successful appeal based on the original judge’s mishandling of the modern slavery defence, James’s convictions were quashed. But in a 2020 analysis of earlier use of rap evidence in UK courts, Dr Abenaa Owusu-Bempah, an associate professor of law at the London School of Economics, found just one instance in which the use of such evidence was successfully appealed.

Young Thug performing in 2021 – the US rapper is being tried for numerous crimes, with his lyrics being used by the prosecution.
Young Thug performing in 2021 – the US rapper is being tried for numerous crimes, with his lyrics being used by the prosecution. Photograph: Amy Harris/Invision/AP

High-profile trials like the one currently involving US chart-topping rapper Young Thug draw attention to this issue; Jay-Z is among the artists behind a prominent campaign for rap lyrics not to be admissible as evidence in the US. But in the UK, most instances go unreported, and there could be many more than those uncovered here. Save for the testimony of witnesses, the grousing of barristers and solicitors, or police officers posting about their exploits on social media, researchers are left to rely on the publication of appeal judgments and reports from local media – neither of which are guaranteed to include mention of rap evidence.

James’s case is emblematic of how rap evidence has been used in UK courts over the past three years. Firstly, in that it involves young men (almost half of the cases recorded in the research featured defendants yet to turn 18). Secondly, in that prosecutors relied on a gang narrative to shape their case, an approach often involving controversial joint enterprise laws. And thirdly, in the use of what is known as a “bad character application” to have the Mali Boys music video included in the evidence shown to the jury. These applications are used when prosecutors (or occasionally defence teams) want to introduce evidence of previous offences or, more vaguely, of a “disposition towards misconduct”. Typically, this would include things such as previous, similar convictions – but it has also become one of the most common routes by which rap evidence ends up in front of juries.

James was alleged to be a gang associate based on his presence in the Mali Boys music video. Definitions of “associate”, “affiliate” and “member” – and the difference between them in relation to gangs – remain slippery in the justice system, where there is still no consensus on defining what a gang is. This, defence teams say, makes it easier for prosecutors to apply the term in broad strokes, and to benefit from the prejudice it invites. “Few words provoke as much bias among a jury as ‘gang’,” wrote criminal barrister Oliver Mosley in 2021 (Mosley has prosecuted drill artists himself in the past).

The word “drill” can have a similarly provocative effect: during the 2020 trial of Daniel Lena, the popular rapper Unknown T who had been accused (and was later acquitted) of murder, concerns were raised in court about specific references being made to drill music, owing to the “substantial prejudice” that mentions of the genre attract.

Unknown T performing in April 2022.
Unknown T performing in April 2022. Photograph: Lorne Thomson/Redferns

Drawing clear conclusions on the motives of drill rappers – particularly ones that could form solid evidence – is made almost impossible by the way in which bold claims, aggressive boasts, local gossip, and provocation are woven into the fabric of the genre. Fans living vicariously through the outlaw tales portrayed in drill songs flock to reaction videos and street gossip channels on YouTube and other social media platforms, further boosting artists’ online clout and notoriety – and muddying the already grey waters of what might be true and what is not. Documents reviewed by the Guardian show how the comment sections under these channels, as well as discussions on Reddit, are in turn mined for evidence by police officers, in spite of the flimsy, unreliable nature of these sources.

James’s case was heard in Lewes, a town in Sussex better known for its vigorous Bonfire Night celebrations than hardcore rap offshoots. This too is indicative of a shift revealed by the Prosecuting Rap research.

While the bulk of rap evidence still crops up in London and its network of crown courts, the research uncovers hearings involving rap in locations as widespread as Leicester, Warwick, St Albans and Derby. “When we think of the use of rap in court cases, we tend to think first of London and the Met police,” says Quinn, “but what also emerges is that rap music is actually a courtroom soundtrack across the country.” Trials were also identified in Sheffield, Winchester, Bradford, and Nottingham, as well as major cities including Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham. “Disturbingly,” says Quinn, “evidence suggests there is even less oversight and scrutiny of this practice outside of the capital.”

Quinn’s highlighting of the Met’s role in the uptake of rap evidence is pertinent.

The Prosecuting Rap research reveals a pattern in which police officers are put forward by prosecutors to act as rap experts in court. Typically, these police witnesses will draw links between lyrics and real life crimes, and between music and gang membership. They offer translations of slang and provide their own interpretations of the meaning behind songs and music videos. (Examples of translations seen by the Guardian included inaccuracies, such as the word “ting”, despite its breadth of possible meanings in different contexts, being singularly interpreted as “gun”.)

The provision of some of these experts can be linked with the Met’s Project Alpha unit, an online surveillance initiative established in 2019 and funded by the Home Office. One of Project Alpha’s core activities involves referring rap videos it deems dangerous to be taken down by YouTube. Last year, according to figures released in response to a Freedom of Information request, 1,825 requests from Project Alpha resulted in 1,636 rap videos being removed.

Until late 2022, Project Alpha’s efforts targeting drill music – under the banner of “Online Harm Referrals” – were led by an officer named Michael Railton. Under Railton, the scope of this work was expanded to include other social media platforms beyond YouTube, and to lobby national radio stations and record labels. This would culminate, in 2022, with Meta’s Oversight Board – the group of academics, legal professionals, journalists and former politicians to whom the tech giant has devolved responsibility for its most contentious content moderation decisions – being tasked with considering whether Instagram should have cowed to pressure from the Met in removing 164 separate posts featuring a clip of a song by London drill rapper Chinx (OS). The board ruled against Instagram’s decision, stating in its judgment that “while law enforcement can sometimes provide context and expertise, not every piece of content that law enforcement would prefer to have taken down should be taken down.” Noting that Project Alpha’s requests had focused solely on drill music, the Board suggested that the Met’s “intensive focus on one music genre among many that include reference to violence raises serious concerns of potential over-policing of certain communities”.

Police in attendance as rapper Digga D films a video in Piccadilly Circus.
Police in attendance as rapper Digga D films a video in Piccadilly Circus. Photograph: Stephen Chung/Alamy

A spokesperson for the Met did not address the board’s comments directly, instead telling the Guardian:“Project Alpha aims to develop intelligence from social media platforms linked to offline gang violence and serious and organised crime, as we want to use all opportunities to prevent Londoners being victims of violent crime. The Met works only to identify and remove content which incites or encourages violence; it does not seek to suppress freedom of expression through any kind of music.” Since February 2023, age and ethnicity data has been recorded “where identifiable” by Project Alpha officers.

Railton, for his part, says that over-policing of any community was “never the intention” and that he never set out to demonise any one genre of music or group of people. “All I want them to do is to be able to put out music which is socially responsible and that doesn’t play into the further perpetuation of the downward spiral of their community and themselves,” he says.

In 2021, PC Railton helped lead an initiative called Project Insight, which prepares police to act as expert witnesses, providing courts with commentary on “urban street gangs” and the use of slang (including when it appears in music). Railton’s initial cohort of police-trained expert witnesses numbered 18 individuals. According to the UK’s Criminal Procedure Rules, the overriding duty of expert witnesses is to provide the court with testimony that is objective and unbiased. Academics and defence lawyers have questioned whether police officers can act as truly independent experts, given their proximity to prosecutions. Beyond issues of independence, others have questioned the degree to which police officers – who are trained to view events through a criminological lens – are able to interpret rap materials in a manner that gets anywhere near to the heart of what an author may have intended or, indeed, how songs and videos are consumed by fans of the music, their intended audience.

Railton says he holds himself to the “gold standard” of independence when acting as an expert witness, and that he welcomes the scrutiny that the role entails. He also argues that police officers are often the best placed to offer expertise to the court when it comes to decoding rap lyrics.

Professor Quinn disagrees. “Police officers themselves typically act as rap experts in these cases. But their interpretations are too often shaped by what legal scholars call ‘flawed inferences’ rooted in pre-existing beliefs about young black men and criminality, as well as a pro-prosecution stance,” she says. “With the Casey Review’s finding of institutional racism in the Met, the danger of fielding police officers as ‘neutral’ experts is stark. The interpretations of rap lyrics presented to jurors, who tend to know nothing (and certainly nothing positive) about this provocative music, can be crucial to court case verdicts.” The Met did not offer the Guardian any comment on its provision of police officers as rap experts.

Increasingly, the format in which rap lyrics are presented in UK courts follows templates designed by PC Railton, which he describes on his LinkedIn profile as “jury friendly evidential products” (he left the Met at the end of last year, and now runs a private consultancy offering expert witness training). These templates present lyrics, the officer’s direct translations, and their interpretations of those translations in adjacent columns, and strip the materials of all context of how they might otherwise be presented (recorded or performed over a beat, for instance), and the fact that, ultimately, these are artistic expressions. Railton says that how experts present their evidence is a matter of individual choice, but expresses some pride in the way that his templates “step the jury through” the evidence and “dissolve the hyperlocal context out of the music”.

In January last year, the Crown Prosecution Service said it would be reviewing how rap evidence can be used in court. However, a later announcement in June, about a new “pioneering ‘gangs’ unit” based in Birmingham, appeared to double down on the admissibility of drill evidence, noting a number of new cases in which lyrics had been successfully put before juries. The full results of the review are yet to be published. Updated guidance, “which sets out the issues for prosecutors to consider regarding the use of drill music as evidence”, is due to be published later this year. The CPS declined to name any of the organisations it had approached to take part in its public consultation on the matter.

In the face of this, barristers, youth workers, and music industry representatives in the UK are beginning to rally efforts for legislative and legal advisory changes, similar to those recently enacted in the US, which have curbed the use of creative expressions in courtrooms and seen unfair convictions overturned.

In a social media post of his own last December, in response to a story published by the Guardian, former PC Railton noted his pride in the role police officers have played in the history of UK drill music. “There is no show without the stand we have taken. I am massively proud to have generated such vital discussion,” he wrote. James would perhaps disagree with him on that count. At the Crown Prosecution Service, meanwhile, the jury remains out.

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