Erik Nielson

Brooklyn, New York

General Specialty


Specialty Focus

African American literature
Liberal Arts

Rap on Trial

Erik Nielson is Associate Professor of Liberal Arts at the University of Richmond, where his research and teaching focus on hip hop culture and African American literature. Well known as an expert in the use of rap music as evidence in criminal trials. His book Rap on Trial: Race, Lyrics, and Guilt in America, with co-author Andrea Dennis, was published in November 2019 and received the Hugh Hefner Foundation First Amendment Award in October 2020. He has published peer-reviewed articles on African American music and poetry—with a particular emphasis on rap music—and is co-editor of The Hip Hop & Obama Reader. Nielson writes regularly on race, politics, and popular culture for national media outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and NPR. He has served as an expert witness or consultant in criminal cases involving rap music as evidence.

Drawing on the 50+ cases I’ve worked on–as well as the hundreds that Andrea and I have identified across the country–we look at the history of the practice, the reasons for its growth, and the frightening ramifications for young men who are increasingly being incarcerated for their music. He was the lead author of three amicus briefs with the US Supreme Court, two of which were jointly submitted with his frequent collaborator, Killer Mike. Nielson and Travis L. Gosa edited The Hip Hop & Obama Reader. Nielson was a featured participant in WRIC News’ series Richmond and Race, a discussion among community leaders about race relations and police accountability in Richmond, VA.


Featured Work:

  • Bars Behind Bars: The use of rap lyrics in court.



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