NY “Rap Music on Trial” bill helps protect artists of all kinds

On Behalf of | May 20, 2022 | criminal defense

We’ve seen high-profile criminal cases where prosecutors use lyrics (specifically those by rappers) against musicians charged with crimes. Often these lyrics mirror the criminal activity they’re accused of. Do these words provide valid evidence of intent or are they simply creative expression?

Some members of the New York state legislature assert that this prosecution tactic is not only wrong but discriminatory since it’s primarily used against Black artists. They’re working to pass legislation – the first of its kind in the country — that would restrict the use of lyrics in criminal cases. 

New York Senate Bill S7527 has passed. Now the State Assembly is working on its version. Eventually, they hope to have one combined bill they can send to Gov. Kathy Hochul for her signature.

Famous rappers are advocating for the legislation

The bill, which has been dubbed “Rap Music on Trial,” has the support of famous names in rap including Jay-Z and Killer Mike. However, it doesn’t solely apply to rap music – or music at all. It would limit the use of any “creative expression” by someone to connect them to a crime. Prosecutors would have to show that a creative work is “literal, rather than figurative or fictional.”

For now, however, rappers are at the forefront of speaking out in favor of the legislation. A recent public letter to New York lawmakers signed by multiple artists said that prosecutors’ use of rap lyrics as evidence “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.”

As noted, this legislation can help protect anyone who engages in creative expression – including authors, musicians, artists, poets and more — from having their work wrongfully used against them. Even without the law yet in place, defendants and their legal representatives can and should fight back against anything that’s unfairly used as evidence.