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Jay-Z, Meek Mill, more join campaign to block rap lyrics being used as evidence in court

The campaign responds to a rise in cases of rap lyrics used as evidence in criminal trials

Rappers including Jay-Z, Meek Mill and Big Sean among others are campaigning for a new law that would limit the use of rap lyrics as evidence in court. 

The proposed New York state law aims to stop prosecutors from using defendants’ rap lyrics as evidence of alleged crimes. Jay-Z is encouraging other musicians to add their names to an open letter calling for lawmakers to pass the bill. Artists including Fat Joe and Kelly Rowland have also added their names to the list so far. 

The legislation, dubbed Rap Music on Trial, comes in response to an increase of rap musicians having their lyrics used against them in criminal cases. It aims to limit the admissibility of a defendant’s music or other “creative expression” as evidence in court. Instead, prosecutors would have to provide “clear and convincing evidence” that the words expressed in rap songs are “literal, rather than figurative or fictional.”

Jay-Z’s lawyer Alex Spiro told Rolling Stone, “this is an issue that’s important to (Jay-Z) and all the other artists that have come together to try to bring about this change. This is a long time coming.”

A Democrat senator, Brad Hoylman, highlighted the prejudiced attitudes that exist toward rap music, explaining to Rolling Stone that no one believes Johnny Cash “shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” or that David Byrne is a “psycho killer”. 

In 2016, Los Angeles rapper Drakeo the Ruler was eventually acquitted of the murder of a 24-year-old man but ultimately spent three years in prison while prosecutors attempted to use his lyrics as incriminating evidence.

The legislation, first put forward in November, was successfully approved in the Senate Codes last week, marking the first step towards becoming law. 

In 2020, a Manchester-based research project, Prosecuting Rap, challenged the use of so-called “rap evidence” in UK courts