A bill supported by artists including Jay-Z, Fat Joe, and Meek Mill alongside academics like Michelle Alexander, restricting when prosecutors can cite rap lyrics as evidence during criminal cases, passed in New York’s state Senate on Tuesday (May 17).
Senate Bill S7527 referred to as “Rap Music on Trial,” must still pass the state assembly before becoming law. The bill, sponsored by Senator Brad Hoylman (D/WFP-Manhattan), Senator Jamaal Bailey (D-The Bronx), and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz (D-Queens), passed by a vote of 38-23.
While the bill covers artists across all genres, supporters argue the protection is vital for rap artists who use their lyrics to tell stories. Supporters also point to the disproportionate impact usage of rap lyrics has on Black men.
New York State Senator Brad Hoylman says, “Art is creative expression, not a blueprint of criminal plans. Yet we’ve seen prosecutors in New York and across the country try to use rap lyrics as evidence in criminal trial, a practice upheld this year by Young Thug’s prosecutors.”
Rappers Young Thug and Gunna were among the 28 YSL artists named in a sweeping 56-count RICO indictment. Lyrics from a total of nine Young Thug songs were listed in the indictment. Gunna’s legal team says “the indictment falsely portrays his music as part of a criminal conspiracy.”
“It’s time to end the egregous bias against certain genres of music – like rap – and protect the First Amendment rights of all artists,” Hoylman continues. “I’m proud the New York senate passed this legislation so that New York leads the way in treating artists fairly, no matter their race or gender.”
“Rap should not be treated differently from any other art form; yet in courtrooms across the country, artists have been unfairly targeted for simply exercising their right to creative expression,” said Senator Bailey. “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.”