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California Bill Banning Use of Rap Lyrics as Evidence Signed Into Law

After unanimous approval in the Senate and Assembly, the California bill that aims to restrict the use of rap lyrics as evidence by prosecutors in criminal cases was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday, Variety reports.

Killer Mike, Meek Mill, Too $hort, Tyga, YG, E-40, Ty Dolla $ign and Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. were among those who “attended” the virtual bill signing.

The law would require judges to press prosecutors on the purpose behind including lyrics as evidence and interrogate whether doing so injects “racial bias into the proceedings.”

“Artists of all kinds should be able to create without the fear of unfair and prejudicial prosecution,” Governor Newsom said in a statement. “California’s culture and entertainment industry set trends around the world and it’s fitting that our state is taking a nation-leading role to protect creative expression and ensure that artists are not criminalized under biased policies.” 

“Today we celebrate an important victory for music creators in the state of California,” said Harvey Mason Jr., CEO of the Recording Academy, said in a statement. “Silencing any genre or form of artistic expression is a violation against all music people. The history that’s been made in California today will help pave the way forward in the fight to protect creative freedom nationwide. We extend our gratitude to Assemblymember Jones-Sawyer for his leadership on this issue and to Governor Newsom for recognizing the importance of protecting artistry and signing the Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act into law.”

The bill bears similarities to the New York bill, also attempting to limit the use of song lyrics in court. However, that legislation never made it past the State Assembly. Efforts are being made on the federal level to remove rap lyrics from the back pocket of prosecutors, too. The Restoring Artistic Protection Act, better known as the RAP Act, has been introduced to the House of Representatives with similar goals of protecting creative expression from being weaponized against artists in court.

“Under current law, rap artists can feel as though they are being read their Miranda Rights before they even begin to write music: ‘You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law,’” Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, the bill’s author, told Pitchfork in a statement.

He added: “We should not stymie the creative expression of artists. Unfortunately, racial biases play a role when talking about musical genres. Rap music lyrics share many similarities to that of other musical categories yet are singled out by the judicial system to characterize an artist. AB 2799 would disallow prosecutors from triggering racial biases or reinforcing racial stereotypes and it gives judges guidance on the use of creative expression in court.”

Conversations around the legislature particularly picked up after Young Thug and Gunna were arrested in Georgia on RICO charges. The indictment, particularly for Gunna, relies heavily on the rapper’s song lyrics.

“It is intensely problematic that the state relies on song lyrics as part of its allegations,” Gunna’s lawyer insisted in a motion seeking his release on bond, which was ultimately denied. “These lyrics are an artist’s creative expression and not a literal recounting of facts and circumstances. Under the state’s theory, any artist with a song referencing violence could find herself the victim of a RICO indictment.”

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