Two New York state senators have put forward a bill to protect rap and hip-hop artists’ use of creative expression in their lyrics.
Referred to as the “Rap Music on Trial” bill, the proposed legislation would seek to limit the admissibility of song lyrics as criminal evidence “without clear and convincing proof that there is a literal, factual nexus between the creative expression and the facts of the case.”
In a Rolling Stone interview, Senators Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) and Jamaal Bailey (D-The Bronx) illustrated their point by citing classic lyrics by the likes of Johnny Cash (“But I shot a man in Reno/ Just to watch him die”) and David Byrne (“Don’t touch me, I’m a real live wire/ Psycho killer”) which are clearly understood to be artistic.
Meanwhile, rappers’ lyrics have an unfortunate history of often being used against them in court. In 2016, prosecutors cited Drakeo The Ruler’s song “Freestyle Flex” in the murder case against him. More recently, the lyrics of Tekashi 6ix9ine were introduced in court and used to compel the rapper into becoming a government witness to avoid harsher sentencing.
“Art is creative expression, not a blueprint of criminal plans,” Hoylman said in a press release. “Yet we’ve seen prosecutors in New York and across the country try to use rap music lyrics as evidence in criminal cases, a practice upheld this year by a Maryland court. It’s time to end the egregious bias against certain genres of music, like rap, and protect the First Amendment rights of all artists. I’m proud to introduce this legislation so that New York leads the way in treating artists fairly, no matter their background.”
Added Bailey: “The use of rap and hip-hop lyrics in particular is emblematic of the systemic racism that permeates our criminal justice system. In many cases, even the mere association with certain genres, like hip-hop and rap, leads to heightened scrutiny in the courtroom and is used to presume guilt, immorality, and propensity for criminal activity. This bill will finally put an end to this grossly discriminatory practice by ensuring that there is a valid nexus between the speech sought to be admitted into evidence and the crime alleged.”