Arts & Entertainment

Supreme Court Declines Case Involving Pittsburgh Rapper

Rapper Jamal Knox claims his First Amendment rights were violated when he was sentenced for threatening lyrics.


The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to take up the case of a Pittsburgh rapper who claims his First Amendment rights were violated. The case, involving rapper Jamal Knox, had garnered the attention from some of the biggest names in hip hop, including Chance the Rapper, Meek Mill, 21 Savage and others.

The case centers around a 2012 release by Knox , who performs under the name "Mayhem Mal," and Rashee Beasley. The track F*** the Police was inspired by a previous arrest on gun and drug charges. The song identified two Pittsburgh Police Officers who arrested Knox and Beasley, and directed threatening language towards the officers with lines including "Let's kill these cops cuz they don't do us no good."

Both artists were charged with terroristic threats. Knox was convicted and sentenced to one to three years in prison.

Lawyers for the rappers argued that the song was protected under the First Amendment, however, a trial court and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the lyrics constituted a true threat which falls outside the protections of the free speech.

According to CNN, the officers testified that the lyrics of the song made them "nervous" and concerned for their safety, with one saying it led him to leave the police force .

Artists (from top left, clockwise) Meek Mill, Chance the Rapper, and Killer Mike were among those who filed a brief of Knox's behalf. (Images courtesy Instagram)

Last month, a group of prominent hip hop artists that also included rappers Killer Mike, Fat Joe and Yo Gotti filed a legal brief claiming the song was a "political statement ... that no reasonable person familiar with rap music would have interpreted as a true threat of violence." The brief also claimed that words in rap music are often chosen because they fit a song's rhythm or meter, rather than their precise meaning.

The song was also seen as an homage to F*** tha Police by the legendary hip hop group N.W.A, released in 1988.

As CNN explains, by declining to take up the case on appeal, the Supreme Court will not rule (at this moment) on whether the government must show that a "reasonable person" would regard someone's statement as a sincere threat of violence, or whether it is enough to show only that the speaker's subjective intent was to threaten.

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