Rap is fighting back. First proposed in November by state senators Brad Hoylman and Jamaal Bailey, New York legislation bill “Rap Music on Trial” hopes to halt criminal prosecutors from citing lyrics as trial evidence. The bill has since garnered support from JAY-Z, Killer Mike, Meek Mill, Kelly Rowland, Fat Joe, Yo Gotti, Robin Thicke and more.
“The right to free speech is enshrined in our federal and state constitutions,” Bailey said in a statement. “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.
JAY-Z’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, drafted the letter and echoed Bailey’s sentiment in a new article for Rolling Stone.
“This is a long time coming,” Spiro said. “By changing the law here, you do a lot of good for the cases that it affects, but you also send a message that progress is coming. We expect it will be followed in a lot of places.”
Advocated by artists, activists and scholars, the “Rap Music on Trial” letter was released after the legislation passed the Senate Codes committee on Tuesday, January 18. The bill is poised to protect artists and content creators from having their lyrics pinned against them by prosecutors, guaranteeing freedom of creative expression. The law would also prohibit New York prosecutors from using lyrics as evidence without having clear and convincing proof of literal connection between creative expression and facts of the case. Back in 2014, the Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled that rap lyrics can’t be used as evidence in a criminal trial.
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