JAY-Z, Killer Mike and More Urge New York Lawmakers to Limit Use of Rap Lyrics in Criminal Cases

An open letter signed by the artists reads, "No other fictional form, musical or otherwise, is (mis)used like this in courts."

BY Calum SlingerlandPublished Jan 20, 2022

JAY-Z, Killer Mike and Meek Mill are among a group of recording artists urging New York lawmakers to pass legislation to restrict prosecutors' ability to cite rap lyrics as evidence in criminal cases.

Billboard reports that an open letter — which is also signed by artists including Big Sean, Rapsody, Hit-Boy, Benny the Butcher, Tinashe, Yo Gotti, Vic Mensa, Robin Thicke, instrumental trio Animals as Leaders and many more, in addition to scholars and activists — calls for lawmakers to support proposed Senate Bill S7527, known as "Rap Music on Trial."

Authored by Alex Spiro, JAY-Z's attorney, and Erik Nielson, a professor at the University of Richmond who wrote on the subject in 2019's Rap on Trial: Race, Lyrics, and Guilt in America, the letter explains that the bill would provide "long-overdue protections for creative expression, particularly rap music," if made into law.

The letter makes note of how the genre "has been targeted and punished by the criminal justice system for decades." It reads, in part, "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."

Spiro and Nielson write that use of lyrics as evidence is a tactic which "effectively denies rap music the status of art and, in the process, gives prosecutors a dangerous advantage in the courtroom: by presenting rap lyrics as rhymed confessions of illegal behaviour, they are often able to obtain convictions even when other evidence is lacking."

"No other fictional form, musical or otherwise, is (mis)used like this in courts," the letter continues. "And it should come as no surprise that the overwhelming majority of artists in these cases are young Black and Latino men."

You can read the complete letter below [via Billboard]. On Tuesday (January 18), the bill passed a committee vote, moving it one step closer to a vote by the full New York State Senate.

Memorandum of Support - "Ra... by Billboard


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