January 21, 2022
Photo: Leon Bennett/Stringer
Uh-oh! Looks like the Hip-Hop police strike again, and Rap music is on trial this time.
Rap titan, Jay-Z is leading the force of other heavyweight rappers to propose and push for a New York State bill to stop using rap lyrics against rappers in criminal trials.
Senate Bill S7527, better known as “Rap Music on Trial,” is a legislative act that would prohibit prosecutors in the State of New York from utilizing rap lyrics as evidence in criminal trials, and it has the support of some of the music industry’s biggest names.
“This tactic 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 behavior, they are often able to obtain convictions even when other evidence is lacking,” a letter wrote.
Jay-Z’s attorney, Alex Spiro and University of Richmond professor, Erik Nielson wrote details of how detrimental the issue is.
Prosecutors that use rap lyrics in criminal trials not only provide little to no insight into the cases against rappers, but also allow juries to be swayed into thinking the rapper on trial is a criminal. That ultimately, disproportionately affects Black men.
“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,’” Spiro and Nielson argued in the letter.
They continued: “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.”
In Dec. 2019, the State of Maryland’s highest court declared rap lyrics can be used in court as evidence.
Senator Brad Hoylman, Senator Jamaal Bailey and assembly member Catalina Cruz introduced the bill in November. If passed, the law would effectively prohibit “creative expression” from being used as evidence of a crime before a jury.
During a 2019 federal trial in which he snitched on his former gang members, Tekashi 6ix9ine was questioned about the lyrics to his songs “Gummo,” “Kooda” and “Billy.”
In the same year, prosecutors also cited the lyrics of Tay-K’s hit “The Race” in his 2019 murder trial, citing both the song and its video before the rapper was convicted guilty on the charges of second-degree murder, and aggravated robbery.
Dating back to the 90s, 2 Live Crew were arrested and charged with violating the obscenity legislation after performing at a record store prior to the release of their album, “As Nasty As They Wanna Be.”
Should it be a crime to rap nowadays? Jay-Z for the win! Share your thoughts on this legislation below.