NEW YORK (1010 WINS) — On Monday, the New York State Senate passed the “Rap Music on Trial” legislation, a bill which prevents song lyrics from being used as evidence in criminal cases, creating protections for all artists and content creators, including rappers.
Artists like Jay-Z and Fat Joe along with academics like Michelle Alexander previously signed their names on a letter endorsing the legislation aimed at securing freedom of creative expression in New York, barring prosecutors from interpreting rap lyrics literally as evidence against defendants in courtrooms.
The bill is sponsored by Senator Brad Hoylman (D/WFP-Manhattan), Senator Jamaal Bailey (D-The Bronx) and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz (D-Queens) and was introduced in November with the intention of protecting all artists and content creators from the misuse of their work in legal battles.
Though the bill covers artists of all genres, supporters of the bill argue that this legislation would be vital for rap artists whose lyrics have historically been denied the status of art, instead, the music has been referred to as an “autobiographical journal” by one prosecutor. Supporters also said this labeling and usage of rap lyrics in courtrooms disproportionately affect Black and Latino people.
“Rap should not be treated differently from any other art form; yet in courtrooms across the country, artists have been unfairly targeted for simply exercising their right to creative expression,” said Senator Bailey. “Presuming a defendant’s guilt based solely on musical genre or creative expression is antithetical to our foundational rights and perpetuates the systemic racism that is embedded into the criminal justice system through discriminatory conflations of hip-hop and rap with criminality.”
University of Richmond Professor Erik Nielson found at least 28 cases of New York criminal prosecutors attempting to use rap lyrics as evidence since 2017. As recently as last week, the Fulton County District Attorney in Atlanta allowed prosecutors to submit rap music from Young Thug in an attempt to prove the rapper’s involvement in a criminal operation.
“Art is creative expression, not a blueprint of criminal plans. Yet we’ve seen prosecutors in New York and across the country try to use rap music lyrics as evidence in criminal cases, a practice upheld this year by Young Thug’s prosecutors. It’s time to end the egregious bias against certain genres of music, like rap, and protect the First Amendment rights of all artists. I’m proud the New York senate passed this legislation so that New York leads the way in treating artists fairly, no matter their race or gender.”