California Bill Bans Rap Lyrics from Use as Evidence

Creative expression scored a major victory in California, as Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill that prevents rap lyrics from being used as evidence in court. The Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act was unanimously approved by the state senate and assembly in August before being signed into law.

Per different, a virtual signing ceremony was held that featured speeches from rappers including Killer Mike, Meek Mill, Too $hort, YG, E-40, and more. Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. and leaders from the Black Music Action Coalition and Songwriters of North America also participated in the ceremony.

“For too long, California prosecutors have used rap lyrics as a convenient way to inject racial bias and confusion into the criminal justice process,” said Dina LaPolt, entertainment attorney and co-founder of Songwriters of North America, in a statement. “This legislation puts in place important guardrails that will help courts hold prosecutors accountable and prevent them from criminalizing Black and Brown artistic expression. Thank you, Gov. Newsom, for setting the precedent. We hope that Congress pass the same law, because this is a nationwide problem.”

Black Music Action Coalition co-founder Willie “Prophet” Stiggers added, “The signing of AB 2799 (The Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act) into California law is a huge victory for the artistic and creative community, and a is a big step in the right direction toward our federal legislation — The RAP Act (Restoring Artistic Protection Act) — preventing the use of lyrics as the sole basis for prosecuting cases. The Black Music Action Coalition commends Gov. Newsom for his willingness to stand with Artists and defend our First Amendment right to free speech.

Prosecutors have a long history of using rappers’ lyrics against them in court. One of the most recent examples is a racketeering case against Young Thug. Many of his songs have been entered as key evidence by Georgia prosecutors during the ongoing trial that also involves fellow Atlanta rapper Gunna.

The new California legislation would give strength to a proposed federal law called the Restoring Artistic Protection (RAP) Actwhich was introduced in Congress by US Representatives Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) and Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) in late July.

The Recording Academy, Black Music Action Coalition, and Songwriters of North America have all voiced their support for the RAP Act, as have most major labels. Learn more about the bill HERE.

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