California has officially become the first state to limit the use of lyrics as evidence in criminal trials as Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB2799 — aka The Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act — into law after it passed the state senate late last month.
The Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act is one of several so-called “Rap On Trial” laws introduced at both the state and federal levels by activists seeking to end the use of lyrics against artists, a practice that some refer to as racist due to their frequent application in criminal trials involving rappers. The practice has come under greater scrutiny this year as high-profile cases against rappers like YoungBoy Never Broke Again and Gunna and Young Thug hinged on instances of the rappers lyrics that supposedly tied them to criminal activities. The prosecutors in the latter have received criticism as the main counts against them stemmed from them shouting out YSL on their records.
Artists like E-40, Killer Mike, Meek Mill, Too Short, Ty Dolla Sign, Tyga, and YG attended a virtual signing ceremony today, where Songwriters of North America co-founder Dina LaPolt said, “For too long, prosecutors in California have used rap lyrics as a convenient way to inject racial bias and confusion into the criminal justice process. This legislation sets up 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 standard. We hope Congress will pass similar legislation, as this is a nationwide problem.”
The bill’s signing represents a huge step forward for proponents of similar bills in states like New York, which passed its own “Rap On Trial” bill through the state senate in May but saw it stall out in the State Assembly.