JAY-Z is calling on the New York State Legislature to pass legislation that would limit when rap lyrics can be used as evidence in criminal trials.
In a letter seen by Billboard, the Roc Nation mogul urged lawmakers to support Senate bill S7527, known as “Rap Music on Trial,” which would limit the admissibility of someone’s music in a criminal trial.
In addition to JAY-Z, the letter was signed by others including Meek Mill, Killer Mike, Fat Joe and Robin Thicke.
The bill, introduced in November, would limit the circumstances in which any form of “creative expression” can be presented to a jury as evidence of a crime. If passed, prosecutors could only present such material to the jury if they could demonstrate that an expressive work is “literal rather than figurative or fictional.”
“This reform is urgently needed,” wrote Alex Spiro, attorney for JAY-Z, and Erik Nielson, professor at the University of Richmond. “This tactic effectively denies rap music the status of art, while giving prosecutors a dangerous advantage in the courtroom: By presenting rap lyrics as rhyming confessions of illegal conduct, they can often secure a conviction even in the absence of other evidence.”
The letter cited a study that showed participants viewed violent rap lyrics as far more threatening than violent lyrics from a country song.
“No other fictional form, musical or otherwise, is so[abused]in court,” Spiro and Nielson wrote. “And it should come as no surprise that the overwhelming majority of artists in these cases are young Black and Hispanic males.”
The legislation is part of a broader legal debate about when prosecutors can or should cite rap lyrics, a practice that can unfairly bias juries and have a disproportionate impact on black men.
The bill has already passed a committee vote by an 8-4 vote and is now one step closer to a vote by the full New York State Senate.