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California becomes first state to restrict rap lyrics in courtrooms

by Ezekiel J. Walker
California becomes first state to limit rap lyrics in courtrooms
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On Friday, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law the state legislature’s Assembly Bill 2799—also known as the Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act. The law will prevent the use of rap lyrics in prosecutions. Hip hop artists Killer Mike, Meek Mill, E-40, Ty Dolla $ign, and Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason, Jr. were among those present for the virtual signing ceremony.

Representatives for Songwriters of North America and the Black Music Action Coalition also joined the call.

“For too long, prosecutors in California have used rap lyrics as a convenient way to inject racial bias and confusion into the criminal justice process,” said SONA’s Dina LaPolt in a statement about the bill. She continued, “This legislation sets up important guardrails that will help courts hold prosecutors accountable and prevent them from criminalizing Black and Brown artistic expression. Thank you, Gov Newsom, for setting the standard. We hope Congress will pass similar legislation, as this is a nationwide problem.”

According to Pitchfork, lyrics have been a central and controversial tool leveraged by prosecutors in several recent high-profile cases, including the May RICO sweep that landed Young Thug, Gunna, and several of their associates in jail.

The prosecuting district attorney has maintained that references to drugs, weapons, and violence are evidence of gang activity. Meanwhile, California’s state legislature approved and passed the bill to Newsom’s desk in late August. Advocates for the new law are continuing to push for federal legislation to the same end, the Restoring Artistic Protection (RAP) Act.

“Artists of all kinds should be able to create without the fear of unfair and prejudicial prosecution,” the governor said in a Friday statement. “California’s culture and entertainment industry set trends around the world, and it’s fitting that our state is taking a nation-leading role to protect creative expression and ensure that artists are not criminalized under biased policies.”

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