August 24, 2022 - 106 views

California lawmakers have passed legislation that will limit the use of rap lyrics as evidence in criminal trials.


According to Billboard, the State Assembly re-voted in favor of AB 2799 on Monday (August 22), just days after the State Senate unanimously approved the bill. The bill is now on its way to Governor Gavin Newsom, who is expected to sign it into law.


Rap lyrics would be prohibited in the courtroom unless prosecutors can demonstrate they are directly relevant to the facts of the case and will not "inject racial bias into the proceedings." If everything goes as planned, California will be the first state to pass such legislation. New York attempted to do so in May but was denied by the Assembly.

In California, prosecutors must proceed as if rap lyrics have "minimal" value unless the state "can show that the expression was created near in time to the crime; bears a level of similarity to the crime; or includes 'factual details' about the crime that are not otherwise publicly available."

Additionally, under the proposed legislation, courts would have to provide testimony describing "experimental or social science research" that demonstrates how a particular genre "introduces racial bias into the proceedings." Jurors perceive Hip Hop lyrics as more dangerous than those from other genres, according to a number of empirical studies.


Last week, Mitch Glazier, Chairman & CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), sent a letter in support of AB 2799. Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff," The Beatles' "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," and Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" are just a few examples of songs "rooted in imagination" that use exaggeration and "fantastical imagery" to paint a picture. Glazier's letter was addressed to the Honorable Toni Atkins.

He pointed out that rap lyrics are exempt from the same restrictions and described those kind of lyrics as "customary, and frequently necessary, elements of creative expression."


Rap and Hip Hop artists' lyrics are too frequently—and unfairly—taken literally, robbing them of the poetic license granted to other genres, he said. "When rap and Hip Hop artists adhere to this time-honored tradition of make-believe," he said.


The bill was introduced by California State Assembly District 59 member Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer at the same time that Young Thug and Gunna were detained in Georgia on RICO charges, and the indictment made extensive use of their lyrics.


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