Photo: Courtesy of Black Music Action Coalition
California has become the first state to restrict the use of rap lyrics as evidence in court. On Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom hopped on Zoom with rappers including Tyga, Meek Mill, and Ty Dolla $ign to sign the landmark bill into law. In a press release, Black Music Action Coalition called the move a “crucial step in the right direction,” pointing to the recent indictment of Young Thug and Gunna, whose lyrics have been cited in the ongoing YSL RICO case.
The Decriminalization of Artistic Expression Act, or AB 2799, makes it difficult to use “creative expression” (think lyrics and music videos) as evidence in criminal cases. Courts must now weigh the value of such evidence against the possible introduction of racial bias, and the decision cannot be made in front of a jury. “This legislation establishes important guardrails that will help courts hold prosecutors accountable and prevent them from criminalizing Black and Latino artistic expression,” entertainment attorney Dina LaPolt said in a statement.
A similar New York bill that was sponsored by Jay-Z has I did not do it to the governor’s desk. Jamaal Bowman and Carolyn Maloney, both US representatives from New York, are also among the co-sponsors of a federal bill that would restrict the misuse of lyrics in criminal and civil cases. Known as the Art Protection Restoration Act, the proposed legislation was inserted in the house in July.
For now, California remains the only state to have passed this type of bill, an achievement Newsom is proud of. “California’s culture and entertainment industry sets trends around the world,” it said in a statement, “and it’s fitting that our state is taking a national leadership role in protecting creative expression and ensuring artists don’t be criminalized under biased policies.”