There’s felony stupid.
And then there is actually literally felony stupid.
Meet rapper Nuke Bizzle.
Bizzle – real name Fontrell Antonio Baines, 33, hometown Memphis, TN – shot to infamy in the summer of 2020, posting to You Tube and other social media sites videos detailing how he defrauded the state’s Employment Development Department of more than $1.2 million.
Mr. Bizzle was arrested during a traffic stop in Las Vegas where he was found to have eight fraudulent EDD debit cards on him. During the subsequent investigation the video came to light and he was charged federally with fraud in October, 2020, a few weeks later. He eventually pleaded guilty and will be sentenced on the fraud charges (and unrelated gun and drug charges) in early November.
The most notable video made by Bizzle, featuring Fat Wizza (Mr. Wizza’s real name and/or legal fate is not currently known), was posted quite some time before the arrest. While the exact date of the original YouTube post is not exactly clear (the currently available vids have upload dates post-arrest,) a confidential witness told investigators they believed the videos were made and posted earlier that summer, meaning the EDD was unaware that what is essentially a “how to defraud the agency” lesson was circulating publicly for months.
Here is the video in question:
The video features a number of rock paper stupid gems, with lines such as “you gotta sell cocaine, I just gotta file a claim,” and “go to the bank with a stack of these (holding up unopened EDD envelopes containing debit cards,)” and amazingly an ad pitch of sorts – “you got the name and number…we can put something together.”
It should be noted that – because the EDD was loading its chipless cards with back benefits at the time – i.e. if a person filed until early September they would be sent – as long as they “certified” unemployment for the week (just a website click) – funds back to the original availability in late March, early April. (see here for background on the issue of the agency’s non-existent security systems) Bizzle and Wizza’s $1.25 million reportedly arrived on only 95 cards; therefore each single card carried an average of more than $13,000 ready for immediate usage at a store or ATM or online or wherever.
It should also be noted that at least 5 of the cards were mailed to an address in Memphis, TN, a rather interesting fact considering the EDD is, obviously, a California agency and being asked to mail benefit funds to an out-of-state location should have been a bit of a red-flag, fraud-wise.
While the matter in this case is moot as Mr. Bizzle pleaded guilty and he was facing federal, not state, charges, the singing by Governor Newsom of the “Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act” recently does raise concomitant issues.
The bill curbs the use of rap lyrics as prosecutorial weapons, especially as relating to establishing character, prior acts, known associates, etc. In other words, it protects the idea of freedom of artistic expression just as it has been protected in other forms. Bad behavior and violence have been central artistic themes since, well, art started – from cave paintings to The Iliad to Oedipus Rex to King Arthur to Hitchcock movies to Stranger Things, history shows this to be true.
But the law, said University of California, Irvine Law School Professor Jack Lerner, may not have protected Bizzle if he had been facing state charges.
“The law is nuanced,” Lerner said. “It does not ban all rap lyrics outright.”
Lerner said the lyrics – new law notwithstanding – could possibly have been introduced at trial as they specifically outlined a crime at about the time it was being committed and evidence of the crime was shown in the video.
The new law is about protecting rap artists from facing legal bias by the introduction of lyrics that refer to improper activity.
In other cases, lyrics unrelated to the direct charges in the case have been introduced, and may have swayed the eventual outcome of the trial.
The use of rap lyrics in a trial can lead to the creation of explicit or implicit racial bias in a jury, in part, said Lerner, by “associating the defendant with the 40 years of the stigmatization of rap lyrics” and any attempt to introduce unrelated lyrics must be weighed by the judge against the possibility that that “evidence” could compromise the right to a fair trial.
It is that issue – the rights of artists to freely express themselves even if some people find it horrible – that the California law addresses and not necessarily the circumstances involved in Mr. Bizzle’s case, Lerner said.
The moral of the story? If you actually do the crime, do not do the rhyme.