The current RICO charges and indictments involving YSL artists Young Thug and Gunna have reignited a conversation about using rap lyrics against artists in criminal cases. While some legislative efforts seem to have lost steam, California is poised to be the first state in the country to do something about it. The state Senate and Assembly approved a bill restricting prosecutors’ use of rap lyrics in criminal cases. It has been sent to California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk, where it awaits his signature before it becomes law, per ABC News.
A prevailing argument is prosecutors using lyrics in court dilutes the impact of hip-hop and causes bias in the legal system. While this isn’t an outright ban, the new law would require judges to press prosecutors on purpose behind including lyrics as evidence and interrogate whether doing so injects “racial bias into the proceedings.”
The state would also have to show that the lyrics were created “near in time to the crime; bears a level of similarity to the crime; or includes “factual details” about the crime that are not otherwise publicly available, according to the legislation. Assemblymember and author of AB 2799, Reggie Jones-Sawyer, spoke about how stifling the current legal climate can be to artistic expression.
“Under current law rap artists can feel as though they are being read their Miranda Rights before they even begin to write music: ‘You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law,’” Assembly member Reggie Jones-Sawyer, the bill’s author, said in a statement shared with Pitchfork.
“We should not stymie the creative expression of artists. Unfortunately, racial biases play a role when talking about musical genres. Rap music lyrics share many similarities to that of other musical categories yet are singled out by the judicial system to characterize an artist. AB 2799 would disallow prosecutors from triggering racial biases or reinforcing racial stereotypes and it gives judges guidance on the use of creative expression in court.”
New York has a similar measure called the “Rap Music On Trial” act currently stuck in the State Assembly. On the federal level, the Restoring Artistic Protection Act is now in the House, awaiting a vote.