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Jay Z among artists calling for end to rap lyrics used as evidence

Vocalists, rappers, and musicians have backed a proposal to remove a state law in New York that allows for lyrics to be used as evidence in criminal trials.

We could finally be seeing a change to current laws surrounding lyrical content within songs, namely hip-hop and trap, as a new letter urges New York to rethink its legal system.

Jay Z, Meek Mill, Kelly Rowland, and Killer Mike, among many others, have all signed a document in support of a new legislative change that was first proposed in November of last year.

State senators Brad Hoylman and Jamaal Bailey drafted together ‘Rap Music on Trial’ in 2021, with a clear goal of scrapping the current use of rap lyrics as physical evidence in trials. They argue that it is indicative of systematic racism and tampers with free speech, weaponizing content that is ultimately for entertainment purposes only.

It’s hoped that changes in New York would influence and effect change elsewhere, not just in the US but across the pond too. The UK also uses lyrics in grime, drill, and rap songs as ‘bad character evidence’, barring some artists from naming specific places or people.

The Guardian points to Unknown T as an example, who was on trial for a murder charge but acquitted in 2020. Prosecutors tried to use his lyrics as evidence, though this was barred by a judge.

Attempts like this to use artistic expression to demonstrate bad character are usually always toward Black artists, and exist within the context of racial stereotyping and profiling.

Jay Z’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, explained to Rolling Stone that the law change ‘is a long time coming’. He says that it will also help to ‘spread a message that progress is coming’.

Senator Bailey also added that ‘the admission of art as criminal evidence only serves to erode this fundamental right’ of free expression, and limits artists from being able to discuss and explore topics that may be aggressive or violent.

Assigning criminality to music is also inherently reductive and ignorant toward the culture that surrounds certain genres and niches. It’s especially problematic when it is clearly happening within hip-hop and not other forms of music.

You’re unlikely to ever see a pop punk artist behind bars for crooning about drug use, for example, though you may see an up-and-coming grime act be punished for the same thing.

By seeing so many industry heavyweights sign this new letter, we could well see legislative change very soon. Fingers crossed.


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