The Atlanta City Council is trying to restrict the use of rap lyrics in criminal cases, a practice that has frequently emerged during court proceedings involving rappers.
The ongoing YSL RICO trial has once again gained attention for how prosecutors are using hip-hop songs to incriminate artists. To that point, District 12 council member Antonio Lewis has successfully passed a resolution to “ensure fair and just legal proceedings.”
Lewis stated this about the initiative: “Our resolution is a significant step toward rectifying an issue that has disproportionately affected individuals within marginalized communities. We must protect the freedom of artistic expression while ensuring that evidence used in criminal trials is relevant, reliable, and does not perpetuate bias.
“By urging the Georgia General Assembly to address this matter, we are fostering a more equitable and just criminal justice system for all.”
The legislation aims to urge the Georgia General Assembly to revise its statutes, specifically Title 17, Chapter 7 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated. Lewis and his supporters have highlighted the issue of rap lyrics being frequently misrepresented in court and propose that they should not be used as evidence.
In a letter titled “Art on Trial: Protect Black Art,” published last year with the support of The New York Times and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Warner called for an end to the use of rap as evidence in trials. The letter also urged state and federal legislators to establish limitations on the extent to which such artistic work can be utilized against defendants.
The petition garnered signatures from high-profile figures including 50 Cent, J. Cole, Travis Scott, Post Malone, Alicia Keys, Megan Thee Stallion, and many others. Notably, major record labels such as Warner, Sony, and Universal, as well as prominent companies like Spotify, TikTok, and YouTube Music, expressed their support for the proposition.
“In courtrooms across America, the trend of prosecutors using artists’ creative expression against them is happening with troubling frequency,” the letter read. “Rappers are storytellers, creating entire worlds populated with complex characters who can play both hero and villain. But more than any other art form, rap lyrics are essentially being used as confessions in an attempt to criminalise Black creativity and artistry.”
In September 2022, Governor Gavin Newsom of California signed into law The Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act, which seeks to limit the use of rap lyrics as evidence in court proceedings. The bill, known as AB 2799, received unanimous approval from California’s State Senate in August.
A few months prior to that, the Restoring Artistic Protection Act (RAP Act) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressmen Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Jamaal Bowman (D-NY). The RAP Act aims to provide legal protections for artists by limiting the use of their artistic expressions as evidence in criminal proceedings.
The first-of-its-kind bill aimed to amend the Federal Rules of Evidence laws with the purpose of “limiting the admissibility of evidence of a defendant’s creative or artistic expression against them in a criminal proceeding, and for other related purposes.” The bill sought to provide legal safeguards for artists by restricting the use of their creative or artistic expressions as evidence in court.