The two rappers are joined by other artists such as Kelly Rowland, Robin Thicke, Fat Joe, and Big Sean in urging lawmakers to sign the “Rap Music on Trial” bill (S.7527/A.8681) and make it the law of the land.
The purpose of the legislation is to place limits on the admissibility of a defendant’s music as evidence shown during a criminal trial. According to the draft legislation, the bill would require prosecutors to provide “clear and convincing” evidence that a defendant’s songwriting is “literal, rather than figurative or fictional.”
In a letter signed by the musicians, Jay-Z’s attorney Alex Spiro and University of Richmond Professor Erik Nielson argue that “reform is urgently needed.”
“Rather than acknowledge rap music as a form of artistic expression, police and prosecutors argue that the lyrics should be interpreted literally—in the words of one prosecutor, as ‘autobiographical journals’—even though the genre is rooted in a long tradition of storytelling that privileges figurative language, is steeped in hyperbole, and employs all of the same poetic devices we find in more traditional works of poetry,” the letter read.
“This tactic effectively denies rap music the status of art and, in the process, gives prosecutors a dangerous advantage in the courtroom,” the letter continues. “By presenting rap lyrics as rhymed confessions of illegal behavior, they are often able to obtain convictions even when other evidence is lacking.”
Back in November, Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), Senator Jamaal Bailey (D-The Bronx), and Assembly member Catalina Cruz (D-Queens) first proposed the measure and it passed through the New York Senate Codes committee on Tuesday. The bill is expected to receive a full vote on the Senate floor.
“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,” Fat Joe told Rolling Stone on Tuesday.
“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,” he added.
Senator Bailey said the bill would make it a prerequisite for prosecutors to show a “strong, factual nexus between the art and the facts of the case,” instead of using their music to promote their own agendas.
“Presuming a defendant’s guilt based solely on musical genre or creative expression is antithetical to our foundational rights and perpetuates the systemic racism that is embedded into the criminal justice system through discriminatory conflations of hip-hop and rap with criminality,” Bailey added.