In a major win for creative expression, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the Artistic Expression Decriminalization Act restricting the use of rap lyrics as evidence in California courts.
In August, the California Senate and Assembly unanimously approved the bill, AB 2799. Rap artists Killer Mike, Meek Mill, Too $hort, Ty Dolla $ign, YG spoke about the meaning of the bill at a virtual signing ceremony. E-40 and Tyga, along with Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr., Leaders of the Black Music Action Coalition and Songwriters of North America also attended the signing ceremony.
In a press release, the Black Music Action Coalition called the bill a “decisive step in the right direction” in not introducing racial bias into court proceedings, particularly given the recent indictments against Young Thug and Gunna, whose lyrics have been directly quoted and used against them in an ongoing RICO process.
“For too long, California prosecutors have used rap lyrics as a convenient way to introduce racial bias and confusion into the criminal process,” said Dina LaPolt, entertainment attorney and co-founder of Songwriters of North America. “This legislation sets important guard rails that will help courts hold prosecutors accountable and prevent them from criminalizing black and brown artistic expression. Thank you Governor Newsom for setting the standard. We hope Congress will pass similar legislation as this is a nationwide issue.”
Added Willie “Prophet” Stiggers, Co-Founder and Co-Chairman of the Black Music Action Coalition, “The signing of AB 2799 (The Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act) into California law is a major victory for the artistic and creative community and a one big step in the right direction towards our federal legislation – the RAP Act (Artist Protection Restoration Act) – which prevents the use of song lyrics as the sole basis for prosecuting cases. The Black Music Action Coalition applauds Governor Newsom for his willingness to stand by artists and defend our First Amendment right to free speech.”
Rep. Hank Johnson (Georgia) and Rep. Jamaal Bowman (New York) took the stage at the RIAA offices in Washington DC on September 29 to lobby for legislation in the form of a federal law – the Restoring Artistic Protection or RAP Act – to be used in the run-up to a panel discussion on “Rap and the Rules of Evidence”. Moderated by diversity Executive Editor Shirley Halperin, the panel consisted of Stiggers and LaPolt along with Kevin Liles, CEO of 300 Elektra Entertainment, Prof. Jack Lerner of the University of Irvine School of Law and Attorney Shay Lawson, Esq., SONA Board Member and Outside Advisor to BMAC and Advocacy Chair of the Atlanta Branch of Recording Academy. The wide-ranging discussion addressed the threats to constitutional rights to free speech and due process. Liles, who testified on behalf of jailed rap artists Young Thug and Gunna during their Bond hearings, linked what is happening today to decades of systemic racism that disadvantages black men.
Speak with diversity in May, LaPolt said using Young Thug’s lyrics as evidence against him in court was “unprecedented racism.” Legal expert Jack Lerner pointed to the justice system’s hypocritical focus on hip-hop as a genre, adding that this process “could really change the way people make music.”
Additional reporting by Shirley Halperin.
https://variety.com/2022/music/news/rap-lyrics-cant-be-used-evidence-newsom-california-new-bill-1235389803/ Rap lyrics can no longer be used in evidence in California: New Bill