Senate Bill S7527, otherwise known as “Rap Music on Trial,” is a piece of legislation that would restrict prosecutors from using rap lyrics as evidence during criminal cases in the state of New York and some of the music industry’s biggest names are going hard to bat for it to be passed.
Written by Jay-Z’s attorney, Alex Spiro, and University of Richmond professor, Erik Nielson, who actually wrote a book on the subject, the letter lays out just how detrimental the issue currently is. “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,” the letter wrote.
Critics of the current status quo say that prosecutors’ use of lyrics not only offers little to no insight into the cases but unfairly sways juries with a disproportionate impact on Black men.
Introduced in November by Senator Brad Hoylman, Senator Jamaal Bailey and assembly member Catalina Cruz, the law, if passed, would effectively curtail “creative expression” from being shown as evidence of a crime to a jury, only allowing “literal, rather than figurative or fictional.”
“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,’” wrote Spiro and Nielson further wrote in the letter.
“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,” they concluded.
Back in 2019, rappers like 6ix9ine had lyrics in music videos for "Gummo," "Kooda" and "Billy" used against him in court. Similarly, in the 1990’s, 2 Live Crew was arrested and charged for violating the obscenity law after performing their music at a record store prior to the release of their album, As Nasty As They Wanna Be.