Rap lyrics have been on trial for decades, almost since the genre’s inception. But in more recent years, that characterization has been more literal than ever as criminal prosecutors aim to use artists’ lyrics against them in court. Rather than viewing their songs as artistic representations of the violence they often encounter, prosecutors have chosen to interpret them as literal admissions of guilt, even though rap’s “keep it real” ethos has been disproven time and time again — just look at Young Thug and Gunna’s current RICO case in Georgia.
However, that may soon be changing with the advent of “Rap On Trial” laws that have begun receiving support from state and federal legislators and other critics looking to protect artists’ freedom of speech and creative expression. Contending that the practice of using lyrics stems from racial bias, lawmakers in New York and California have introduced new bills to limit using rap lyrics in criminal cases and today, one of those bills has advanced further than any others.
California’s AB2799 has passed the State Assembly, days after clearing the State Senate, and now only needs Governor Gavin Newsome’s signature to become law, according to Billboard. He’s expected to do so, making California the first state in which lyrics are banned from court trials unless prosecutors can show that they are directly relevant to the case. That means that the lyrics in question would have to have been written around the time of the crime and/or include factual details that wouldn’t be publicly available (naturally, any prosecutor would have to prove these criteria with other evidence).
Meanwhile, New York’s S7257 was able to pass the Senate but was unable to get a vote in the Assembly. Legislators hope to reintroduce the bill next session. A similar federal bill was introduced in the US House Of Representatives in July but has yet to see progress and is not a guaranteed win, considering the current structure of Congress.