It’s no secret that prosecutors have started using the lyrics and content of the music rappers put out to solve crimes. In many cases, detectives have been able to piece puzzles together, leading to convincing evidence used against rappers.
However, Jay-Z and several rappers are pushing back for the right to free speech in rap music as they seek to prevent lyrics from being used in the courtroom to prove guilt.
Among those who are supporting the move are rappers Big Sean, Meek Mill, Fat Joe, Kelly Rowland, Killer Mike, Yo Gotti, Robin Thicke, and others who are behind a new bill named “Rap Music on Trial” (S.7527/A.8681) which is to be tabled in the Senate. The rappers are hoping that the bill can become law in the state of New York.
According to Rolling Stone, a letter has been sent to New York Governor Kathy Hochul and other lawmakers asking that the legislation be passed.
“This is an issue that’s important to (Jay-Z) and all the other artists that have come together to try to bring about this change,” Jay-Z’s lawyer Alex Spiro, wrote. “This is a long time coming. Mr. Carter is from New York, and if he can lend his name and his weight, that’s what he wants to do.”
The letter was co-written by University of Richmond Professor Erik Nielson and said that the push is aimed to “send a message that progress is coming.”
Speaking about the advocacy move, Fat Joe said free speech was necessary to rap music.
“Our lyrics are a creative form of self-expression and entertainment – just like any other genre,” he said to Rolling Stone. “We want our words to be recognized as art rather than being weaponized to get convictions in court.”
The legislation seeks to set boundaries and limit the use of lyrics which they refer to as “creative expression,” from being used as evidence by prosecutors. The legislation would require prosecutors to prove that the lyrics are not fictional and would need to provide “clear and convincing evidence” before it can be used.
The legislation was tabled by Senator Brad Hoylman, Senator Jamaal Bailey, and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, and it has already made its way through the Senate Codes Committee.
Among the examples that have been used to advocate for the passing of the legislation is Hoylman pointing out Johnny Cash singing that he “shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” as well as David Byrne calling himself a “psycho killer,” – all of which were not viewed as the artists were involved in criminal activities.
Among those artists that have been convicted using their lyrics is the late Drakeo the Ruler, who spent three years in jail.
“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,” Senator Bailey added.