California is taking the necessary steps to protect Black art
California’s Senate passed a new legislation that aims to restrict the use of rap lyrics as evidence in court. The State Assembly re-voted on Monday (August 22), just days after the State Senate unanimously approved the bill.
Bill AB 2799 bans the use of rap lyrics in the courtroom as evidence unless prosecutors can prove that it’s directly relevant. The bill additionally addresses that this legislation won’t “inject racial bias into the proceedings”.
According to Billboard, the bill isn’t a ban. But, it does provide hurdles for prosecutors to overcome. Such evidence of “creative expression” hold little value in the courtroom. Unless, the state can show that the expression was created “near in time to the crime; bears a level of similarity to the crime; or includes ‘factual details’ about the crime are not otherwise publicly available”.
Governor Gavin Newsom of California is expected to sign this bill into law. Although New York made a similar effort earlier this year, California would be the first U.S. state to restrict rap lyrics as evidence.
Reading between the lines — the controversy behind this regulation.
Critics, including celebrities, have spoke out against rap lyrics entering the courtroom. A-list celebrities like Jay-Z, Meek Mill, Fat Joe, Yo Gotti, and Kelly Rowland are among many who signed a letter proposing for lawmakers to make the change in New York State. Back in June during HOT 97’s 2022 Summer Jam, Young Thug encouraged fans to sign ‘Protect Black Art’ petition.
The precedent of using rap lyrics as evidence is blatantly racist. This is because it unfairly discriminates against hip-hop and it sways juries by playing to racial bias. Compared to other genres, rap lyrics are taken literally and is stripped of its creativity. As a result, it directly prevents Black artists from telling their stories. The fear that it may be wrongly interpreted in court is a valid concern.
In the recent case of Young Thug & Gunna’s arrest on RICO charges, the indictment heavily cited their lyrics. Perhaps this new regulation can make its way to Georgia.
Art is a safe space to tell stories that show the best and worst parts of human experience. Art should not have to be used in court.