Jay-Z, Meek Mill, and other artists are coming together to push New York state lawmakers to sign the “Rap Music on Trial” bill. This bill would stop prosecutors from being able to use rap lyrics against artists while in court.
In a letter obtained by People Magazine, Jay-Z’s attorney Alex Spiro and University of Richmond Professor Erik Nielson stated that “Rather than acknowledge rap music as a form of artistic expression, police and prosecutors argue that the lyrics should be interpreted literally.”
The letter continues, saying “in the words of one prosecutor, as ‘autobiographical journals’ — even though 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.”
“This tactic effectively denies rap music the status of art and, in the process, gives prosecutors a dangerous advantage in the courtroom,” the letter continues. “By presenting rap lyrics as rhymed confessions of illegal behavior, they are often able to obtain convictions even when other evidence is lacking.”
The bill aims to limit the admissibility of a artist’s lyrics as evidence. Instead, prosecutors will have to find “clear and convincing” evidence that the lyrics are “literal, rather than figurative or fictional.”
The bill was brought about by Democratic Senator Brad Hoylman, Jamaal Bailey, and Catalina Cruz in November and passed through the New York Senate Codes committee on Tuesday. Now it will head to the Senate floor where it will be voted on.
On Tuesday, Fat Joe spoke to Rolling Stone about his involvement in urging lawmakers to pass the bill. Fat Joe defended the artists, citing that lyrics are a form of expression and that rappers “want our words to be recognized as art rather than being weaponized to get convictions in court.”
“I hope the governor and all the lawmakers in New York take our letter into consideration, protect our artistic rights and make the right decision to pass this bill,” he added.