Jay-Z leads group pushing for law to prevent rap lyrics from being used to prove guilt

by Mike Creef, Staff Writer
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Jay-Z is leading a group of star-studded artists pushing New York lawmakers to pass a bill that aims to stop prosecutors from using rap lyrics as purported blueprints to alleged crimes.

Senate Bill 7527 “limits the admissibility of evidence of a defendant’s creative or artistic expression against such defendant in a criminal proceeding,” according to the New York State Senate’s website.

The bill, titled “Rap Music on Trial”, is also backed by Meek Mill, Big Sean, Fat Joe, Kelly Rowland, Yo Gotti, Killer Mike, Robin Thicke, and others all as celebrity signatories. 

“Our lyrics are a creative form of self-expression and entertainment – just like any other genre. We want our words to be recognized as art rather than being weaponized to get convictions in court. I hope the governor and all the lawmakers in New York take our letter into consideration, protect our artistic rights and make the right decision to pass this bill,” Fat Joe told Rolling Stone on Tuesday.

jay z rap on trial

Left: State Sen. Brad Hoylman said the legislation is aimed at protecting First Amendment rights.
Right: State Sen. Bailey said hip-hop shouldn’t be scrutinized at a higher level than other forms of creative expression.
(Getty Images)

Double-standard between rap and other genres

The “Rap on Trial” legislation was introduced in November by Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan). According to the draft legislation, the bill would set a new high bar compelling prosecutors to provide “clear and convincing evidence” that a defendant’s creative expression, such as a rap song, is “literal, rather than figurative or fictional.”

“It’s humbling to have the who’s who of hip-hop supporting this legislation. I think it points to how important it is in this moment to protect freedom of expression,” Hoylman told Rolling Stone on Tuesday.

He previously pointed out that no one believes Johnny Cash “shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” or that David Byrne is a “psycho killer,” but over and over, rap musicians involved in criminal cases face the prospect, or reality, of having their lyrics used against them in front of criminal juries.

New York has been considering progressive legislation like the “Rap Music on Trial” bill for a while now. Last year Illinois became the first state to pass a bill that bans law enforcement from engaging in deception when interacting with a minor. New York has been considering even stricter measures by banning deception to minors as well as adults.

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