Earlier this month, bodycam footage of the aftermath of rapper and Lil Durk signee King Von’s November 2020 death reached the internet. One clip shows Atlanta Police patrolling outside the Monaco hookah lounge, where a dispute between Von and rapper Quando Rondo erupted into gunfire (charges against Rondo affiliate Lul Tim were reportedly dropped after police determined that APD fired the fatal shot).
An additional clip chronicles the Atlanta Police Department detaining Chicago rapper Bosstop, an affiliate of Von’s who was celebrating his birthday at Monaco that night. A third 90-minute clip shows Bosstop at a hospital and then being walked into a police station. At one point in the third clip, he chillingly tells a hospital worker that he’s glad he “walked off” from the parking lot before the fight started because “my homie, I kinda know he dead…I seen him. He ain’t look right.” It’s unclear if Bosstop is talking about Von or one of the two other people who were killed that night.
In July, several videos of Von in Illinois’ Cook County Jail went viral, including fights between him and other incarcerated people. The videos spread across the rap blogosphere with no explanation of their source, leading some to speculate that they were leaked or otherwise illicitly released. The videos went viral on social media rap accounts with headlines such as “King Von Beats Up His Opp While Being Locked Up In Same Holding Cell.” One Twitter account responded to a clip pondering, “Every day it’s a new video like who really leaking these.”
The records were allegedly retrieved via requests under the Freedom Of Information Act, or FOIA, by whoever’s behind Raq Rarest, a platform with over 41,000 Instagram followers and 44,300 YouTube subscribers. The YouTube page has currently uploaded 63 videos of Chicago rappers in police custody. A person running the account declined to speak to Rolling Stone but said in an Instagram DM that “it’s public records” and “Ppl keep running with the false narrative like a guard is ‘leaking’ vids, that’s not true.”
It’s unclear if Bosstop would’ve ever voluntarily revealed that information to the public. The Freedom Of Information Act gives any American citizen free access to publicize this footage. Beryl Lipton, an investigative researcher at Electronic Frontier Foundation, tells Rolling Stone that agencies have certain exemptions about what information can be requested, but “that doesn’t count in situations where the person has already been deceased.” King Von’s FOIA file has been scoured through since his passing.
Raq Rarest is one of many pages that uploaded rappers’ brushes with the carceral state. In February, YouTuber Ceddy Nash uploaded a three-hour clip of YSL Woody’s interrogation with Atlanta detectives, including him offering information about an impending murder and claiming Young Thug, currently facing RICO charges, wanted someone murdered. “Your friends [are] not here. Nobody can hear you,” a detective tells him while fishing for information. But the footage still found its way onto the net. Ceddy Nash did not respond to a request for comment. Crime Circus is another YouTube platform with almost 300,000 subscribers. They upload not just videos of Florida rappers such as Foolio, 9lokknine, and KSOO in police custody but “general” clips such as the interrogation of a Wisconsin man who killed his parents.
Brooklyn defense attorney and former prosecutor Kenneth Montgomery says pages like Crime Circus, self-billed as “not your average true crime YouTube channel,” exemplify how America’s true crime obsession extends into sensational voyeurism of rappers.
“America is a place where the spectacle not only is maintained, but it evolves,” Montgomery says. “America is not only infatuated with crime. It’s a society that was built on criminal principles. And in our community, unfortunately, there is no pushback to it.” He contends that America’s propensity for dehumanizing Black people for entertainment is simply a relic of the country’s inception: “For slavery to have occurred, people had to get into this anti-intellectual posture, meaning that we weren’t human, so it’s okay not to have feelings. It’s okay to sell that person. And I think that is the legacy in which we are still caught up.”
The Freedom of Information Act was originally part of the Administrative Procedure Act in 1946 but was amended as a solitary congressional act in 1966. The FOIA was enacted to require governmental agencies to disclose information upon request, to, in theory, allow reporters to hold them accountable. While the FOIA is mostly regarded as a tool for the media, the Columbia Journal Review reported on a 2017 data analysis revealing that journalists made up just 7.6 percent of 229,000 requests, while businesses make up 39% and individual citizens are 20% of the requests.
While the FOIA is a necessary civic tool to attempt to keep police departments and public agencies honest, the ease of access allows some, like rap blogs and YouTube pages, to retrieve information for profit. In that manner, Beryl Lipton says that the dynamic could be perceived as exploitative of incarcerated people.
“There is this retraumatization of people who have been, for one reason or another, entered into our criminal justice system,” Lipton says. “There’s good reason why there is due process. There’s also good reason why people have the right to be judged by a jury of their peers. But as we know, there are restrictions around who that jury of peers can be, [including] certain biases that the average entertainment consumer is not trying to be aware of because they’re just trying to satisfy these urges.”
Lipton, who says she’s put in over 10,000 FOIA requests in her career, says requesters aren’t required to divulge what they intend to use the information for. And although every FOIA request is supposed to be fulfilled, she says agencies are less apt to condemn themselves. “Police departments and prisons are notoriously difficult to get certain videos from,” she says. “That doesn’t mean that they won’t release certain videos. But police and prisons are not going to want to release videos that make them look bad. They [will] release videos that make the people that are incarcerated look bad.” So, while video footage of corrections officers’ misconduct might be harder to access, videos of rappers fighting in jail appear to be readily available.
Montgomery says that the infatuation with these clips feels like a consequence of systemic oppression, creating a culture of disillusionment that’s celebrated instead of scrutinized. He sees it especially in the Chicago drill scene, which has become the point of convergence for rap’s true crime fetishization.
“Instead of people being enamored by the conditions of Chicago, institutional racism and the legacy of it and the redlining in the neighborhoods and the educational system, [which are] incredibly difficult social situations, we’re focusing on the low-hanging fruit of the people who are just pawns in that,” he adds. “When I was growing up in Brownsville as a kid if you would’ve told me that one day there would be a billion-dollar industry where we sell Black crime narratives and Black pain and Black deprivation, I might not have believed it, but that is the reality of things.”
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