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California Gov. Gavin Newsom Signs Bill Limiting Use of Rap Lyrics As Evidence in Criminal Proceedings | VIDEOs
As the debate around the use of rappers’ lyrics in criminal cases against them grows, artistes across the genres of R&B, hip hop, and pop, as well as media companies, have signed an open letter calling for an end to the use of rap lyrics as criminal evidence in the United States of America.
The letter, entitled Art On Trial: Protect Black Art, was published on Tuesday in the New York Times and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The piece was signed by over 100 individuals in the music industry, such as Drake, Roddy Ricch, Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys, Megan Thee Stallion, and DJ Khaled.
It was also cosigned by several media companies, including Spotify, TikTok, YouTube Music, Sony Music Group, and SoundCloud. More so, it aims to encourage legislators to limit the use of musicians’ creative expressions against them in court and urged prosecutors to stop the practice in their jurisdictions.
“In courtrooms across America, the trend of prosecutors using artists’ creative expression against them is happening with troubling frequency,” the letter begins. “Regardless of the medium – music, the visual arts, writing, television, film – fans implicitly understand that creative expression is rooted in what artists see and hear; it’s a reflection of the times we live in. The final work is a product of the artist’s vision and imagination.”
The letter describes rappers as storytellers and goes on to criticise the use of their lyrics as confessions, specifically referencing the ongoing criminal case against rappers, Young Thug and Gunna. Both artists and their Young Stoner Life (YSL) associates are currently facing Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) charges and multiple other allegations in Georgia’s Fulton County.
Describing the use of lyrics as racially motivated, as well as a disregard for free speech, the letter closed by stating, “The work is far from done, and we must all join together to defend creative freedom and expression.”
Read the full letter below.
Gavin Newsom, governor of California, pictured here, in New York, on Sept. 21 signed a bill into law that limits the use of rap lyrics in criminal court cases in the state. – (Michael Nagle-Bloomberg-Getty Images)
(CNN) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law on Friday that limits the use of rap lyrics in criminal court cases in the state
The law requires “a court, in a criminal proceeding where a party seeks to admit as evidence a form of creative expression, to consider specified factors when balancing the probative value of that evidence against the substantial danger of undue prejudice.”
The new law underscores a larger national conversation around prohibiting the use of rap lyrics as evidence in criminal proceedings, a tactic critics have called a racist double standard and an infringement on First Amendment rights.
Democratic US Reps. Hank Johnson of Georgia and Jamaal Bowman of New York proposed legislation in July that would ban lyrics from being used as evidence in legal claims though there has been no movement on the legislation in the House since its referral to the House Judiciary Committee.
“Artists of all kinds should be able to create without the fear of unfair and prejudicial prosecution,” the Democratic governor said in a statement Friday. “California’s culture and entertainment industry set trends around the world and it’s fitting that our state is taking a nation-leading role to protect creative expression and ensure that artists are not criminalized under biased policies.”
Under the new law, California courts must consider, if relevant and provided, testimony on the context of a genre of creative expression, “research demonstrating that the introduction of a particular type of expression introduces racial bias into the proceedings,” as well as evidence rebutting those findings.
In addition to limiting the use of rap lyrics in California criminal court proceedings, the legislation, which passed unanimously in the California state Senate and Assembly, also encompasses the use of “performance art, visual art, poetry, literature, film, and other media.
Rap artists Meek Mill, Too $hort, E-40, Killer Mike, YG, Ty Dolla $ign and Tyga were present in a video call with the California governor when he signed the legislation, according to Newsom’s office.
Scholars Erik Nielson and Andrea Dennis, authors of “Rap on Trial: Race, Lyrics and Guilt in America,” have argued that “Rap music is the only fictional musical genre used this way because its primary producers are young Black men, who the criminal justice system happens to target.” They say the genre’s lyrics are vulnerable to being perceived as self-incriminating to law enforcement because of trends in first person narration and focuses on “criminal themes” and “violent imagery.”
Calls from the music industry for legislation addressing the use of lyrics in criminal cases have grown in the wake of a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) indictment of Grammy-award winning rapper Young Thug in Fulton County, Georgia, earlier this year. CNN previously reported that some of Young Thug’s song lyrics were used as examples of “overt acts” in his indictment, some of which constitute racketeering.
“Today we celebrate an important victory for music creators in the state of California. Silencing any genre or form of artistic expression is a violation against all music people. The history that’s been made in California today will help pave the way forward in the fight to protect creative freedom nationwide,” Harvey Mason Jr., CEO of the Recording Academy, said in a statement on Friday.