To safeguard rappers’ artistic expression, two New York senators are proposing a bill that would prohibit prosecutors from using rap lyrics as evidence.
On Wednesday, Nov. 17, Senators Bran Hoylman and Jamaal Bailey of New York introduced the Rap Music on Trial bill in the Senate.
If passed, the measure would change state criminal procedure law to prevent prosecutors from using artists’ “creative or artistic expression” against them unless they can establish “clear and compelling evidence” that the defendant’s rap song or video is “literal, rather than figurative or imaginary.“
In a statement released Wednesday, Bailey said, “The right to free speech is established in our federal and state constitutions because it is via this right that we can protect all of our other fundamental rights.”
“The use of rap and hip-hop lyrics, in particular, is symptomatic of the systemic racism that pervades our criminal justice system, and the acceptance of art as criminal evidence only serves to weaken this fundamental liberty.”
No one believes Johnny Cash “shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” or David Byrne is a “psycho killer,” according to Hoylman, but rap artists’ lyrics are still used against them in court.e
He told Rolling Stone that this “reveals a bias in some instances that denigrates certain forms of expression, like rap music.”