Jay-Z and many of his contemporaries are pushing for prosecutors to stop using rap lyrics in attempts to prove guilt during criminal trials.
In a letter to state lawmakers, including New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, the group called for the legislation to be passed after it made its way through the Senate Codes Committee.
“This is an issue that’s important to (Jay-Z) and all the other artists that have come together to try to bring about this change,” Jay-Z’s lawyer Alex Spiro, shared. “This is a long time coming. Mr. Carter is from New York, and if he can lend his name and his weight, that’s what he wants to do.”
Spiro co-wrote the letter with University of Richmond Professor Erik Nielson, and said that he hopes the legislation makes its way across the country to “send a message that progress is coming.” Also co-signing the letter were Kelly Rowland, Killer Mike, Yo Gotti, Robin Thicke, and more.
“Our lyrics are a creative form of self-expression and entertainment – just like any other genre,” Fat Joe told Rolling Stone. “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.”
The legislation would limit the use of “creative expression” as evidence and push prosecutors to prove that such art isn’t just fictional, with “clear and convincing evidence.” Senator Brad Hoylman, Senator Jamaal Bailey, and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz have brought the legislation forward.
Hoylman used an example of Johnny Cash singing that he “shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” and David Byrne calling himself a “psycho killer,” without anyone taking them literally. On the other hand, hip-hop artists have a history of having their lyrics used against them. The late Drakeo the Ruler served three years in prison after the content of his songs were used to prosecute him.
“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 said.