Prosecutors at a New York murder trial have shown jurors a series of gritty music videos of the accused gang leader rhyming about life and death at a drug-plagued housing project, the latest battleground in the debate over whether rap lyrics constitute criminal evidence.
One, called Man Down. offers the refrain: "Empty shell casings on the ground / That's man down." Another, called Slow Down, warns: "See if he was smart, he would've shot me in the head / 'Cause I can get you shot from a hospital bed."
The lyrics were written and performed by Ronald "Ra Diggs" Herron, whose lawyers argue that the recordings - many of them posted on the internet - are merely art imitating life. Rapping about the use of guns was the aspiring entertainer's way of being a "voice for the people in the projects where he grew up", defence attorney James Neuman said in opening statements.
Prosecutors have countered that the videos show how one of the city's highest-ranking member of the Bloods gang in Brooklyn was determined "to stand out as a real-life gangster who wrote songs and recorded documentary videos about his real-life experiences as a violent gang leader and narcotics trafficker".
US District Judge Nicholas Garaufis ruled that the recordings where relevant because they establish Herron's identity as the leader of the Murderous Mad Dogs, a Bloods faction.