California Gov. Gavin Newsom has officially signed The Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act, which restricts the use of rap lyrics as evidence in court in the western state.
The piece of legislation was unanimously approved by the California Senate and Assembly last month. During a virtual bill signing ceremony, Newsom was joined by Killer Mike, Tyga, Meek Mill. Too $hort, YG, E-40, as well as Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. and leaders from the Black Music Action Coalition and others.
In a press release, the Black Music Action Coalition called the bill a “crucial step in the right direction” of not including racial bias into court proceedings. It also comes after lyrics were directly quoted and used against YSL rappers Young Thug and Gunna, who have been indicted in an ongoing RICO case.
In May, just weeks after Thug, Gunna, and a slew of members from Young Stoner Life Records were arrested, it was revealed that lyrics from Thugger’s “Anybody” and tracks from YSL’s 2021 compilation album Slime Language 2 will be used as evidence in the rappers’ upcoming trial.
Fulton County DA Fani T. Willis said at a press conference at the time, “I believe in the First Amendment. It’s one of our most precious rights. However, the First Amendment does not protect people from prosecutors using [music] as evidence if it is such.”
“The Black Music Action Coalition applauds Governor Newsom for his willingness to stand with Artists and defend our First Amendment right to freedom of speech,” said Willie “Prophet” Stiggers, Co-Founder/Co-Chair of Black Music Action Coalition.
“For too long, prosecutors in California have used rap lyrics as a convenient way to inject racial bias and confusion into the criminal justice process,” Dina LaPolt, entertainment attorney and co-founder of Songwriters of North America, said in the release. “This legislation sets up important guardrails that will help courts hold prosecutors accountable and prevent them from criminalizing Black and Brown artistic expression. Thank you, Gov. Newsom, for setting the standard. We hope Congress will pass similar legislation, as this is a nationwide problem.”
Advocates are now looking for similar Federal legislation to be introduced. This summer, Rep. Hank Johnson (Georgia) and Rep. Jamaal Bowman (New York) took the stage on Thursday (September 29) in Washington D.C. at the RIAA offices ahead of a panel discussion on “Rap and the Rules of Evidence.” The conversation addressed the dangers to the constitutional rights of free speech and to a fair trial.