Jay-Z, Meek Mill, Kelly Rowland, and Killer Mike are among the artists who are advocating for a reform in New York law that would prohibit the use of rap lyrics as evidence in criminal cases. The rappers, along with Fat Joe, Yo Gotti, Robin Thicke, and others, have signed a letter encouraging New York politicians to support the proposed reform and protect freedom of expression.
The legislation, dubbed Rap Music on Trial, was first sponsored by state senators Brad Hoylman and Jamaal Bailey in November, and would prohibit prosecutors from citing lyrics unless there is “clear and persuasive proof” of a link between lyrics and a crime.
The right to free speech is enshrined in our federal and state constitutions. The admission of art as criminal evidence only serves to erode this fundamental right, and the use of rap and hip-hop lyrics in particular is emblematic of the systemic racism that permeates our criminal justice system.
The legislation passed an initial stage in the state senate earlier this week. In a case involving rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine, prosecutors stated in 2019 that they intended to incorporate lyrics and music that “give context” and “pertain to particular issues.” While in court, the rapper was also questioned about the lyrics to his single Gummo.
Prosecutors used lyrics from Drakeo the Ruler’s single Flex Freestyle during the murder trial of the late rapper, who was acquitted in 2019, in an attempt to assign blame. Before being convicted of murder, rapper Tay-K had a hit in the United States with The Race, and prosecutors utilized both the song and the video during his trial.
Abenaa Owusu-Bempah, a law professor at the London School of Economics, discovered that prosecutors can utilize lyrics and films to build a picture of a dangerous rapper that reinforces existing preconceptions about Black males as criminals in a review of 30 appeal cases from 2005 to 2020. “Rap music is frequently offered in court as ‘bad character proof,'” she added, adding that it has also been used as direct evidence. Keep an eye on Thirsty for further updates.
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