Jay-Z Calls To Ban Lawmakers From Using Rap Lyrics As Criminal Evidence

By Kiyonna Anthony

January 19, 2022

Photo: Getty Images

Jay-Z and other artists are calling on New York City lawmakers to stop using rapper's lyrics against them in court as criminal evidence. Hov teamed up with Meek Mill and a slew of artists -- including Big Sean, Fat Joe, Robin Thicke, Kelly Rowland, and Yo Gotti -- to urge lawmakers to sign and turn into state law the "Rap Music on Trial" bill (S.7527/A.8681). Jay's lawyer, Alex Spiro, told Rolling Stone:

"This is an issue that's important to [Jay-Z] and all the other artists that have come together to try to bring about this change. This is a long time coming. Mr. Carter is from New York, and if he can lend his name and his weight, that's what he wants to do."

The bill seeks to limit access to a defendant's music as evidence presented during a trial. The group-signed letter, co-written by Spiro and University of Richmond Professor Erik Nielson, reads:

"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'—even though 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."

The bill was first proposed by Senators Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) and Jamaal Bailey (D-The Bronx), and Assembly Member Catalina Cruz (D-Queens) in November 2021. It continues:

"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."

On Tuesday, bill S.7527/A.8681 passed through the New York Senate Codes Committee, marking a major step toward a full vote on the Senate floor.

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