A new documentary, Rap Trap: Hip-Hop on Trial, premiered on Hulu last week, which centers on the arrest and indictment of rappers Young Thug (Jeffery Williams) and Gunna (Sergio Kitchens) in 2022.
The documentary, which features Fat Joe, Killer Mike, Will.i.am, Jerrika Karlae, 300 Entertainment CEO Kevin Liles, civil rights historian Michael Eric Dyson and Rap on Trial co-author Erik Nielson, also explores the controversial tactic of lyrics being used against artists in a court of law.
Some states have passed laws to make sure Black art isn’t being criminalized.
On May 17, New York’s State Senate passed a bill that would place limitations on how rap lyrics can be used as evidence in criminal cases. Now, Senate Bill S7527, or the “Rap Music on Trial” must pass the state assembly before it can be enacted into law.
Jay-Z is one of the leading music industry giants advocating for the groundbreaking piece of legislation. In January, the rapper’s lawyer, Alex Spiro sent a letter to state lawmakers urging for the bill to be passed.
“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,” Spiro said, according to Rolling Stone. “This is a long time coming. Mr. Carter is from New York, and if he can lend his name and his weight, that’s what he wants to do.”
What is the “Rap Music On Trial” bill?
The new legislation will limit the admissibility of a defendant’s music or other forms of creative expression as evidence shown to a jury. If passed, the bill would require prosecutors to provide “clear and convincing evidence” that a defendant’s creative expression, such as a rap song, is “literal, rather than figurative or fictional,” Rolling Stone notes. However, the measure wouldn’t place a total ban on prosecutors’ ability to present lyrics in a case.
The Blueprint rapper teamed up with other notable stars in hip-hop to push for the “Rap Music on Trial” bill including Meek Mill, Killer Mike and Fat Joe. The “Lean Back” hitmaker told the outlet that lyrics should be viewed as a “form of self-expression and entertainment.”
“We 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.
Manhattan Senator Brad Hoylman and Senator Jamaal Bailey helped to push the legislation forward to New York’s State Senate. A companion bill sponsored by Assembly member Catalina Cruz is currently pending before a committee and awaiting a vote.
Young Thug had lyrics used against him in a RICO case
The news comes amid Young Thug and Gunna’s highly publicized RICO case where prosecutors used stacks of lyrics from songs against the rappers and a few of their YSL labelmates. Although there is no “Rap Music on Trial Bill” in the state of Georgia, Young Thug’s case is a great example of why the law was enacted in the first place.
A recent indictment alleged the famous rap crew of committing racketeering and a slew of other organized crime-related charges. One song that was used against Young Thug, in particular, was his 2019 hit “Just How It Is,” where he rapped:
“I done did the robbin’, I done did the jackin’, now I’m full rappin.’”
Veteran music lawyer Dina LaPolt told Variety that the case was “unprecedented racism,” noting how country music artists often use incriminating lyrics in their songs. LaPolt argued that country star Zach Bryan sang about murder in his song “Birmingham” but wasn’t placed under the same lens of scrutiny as Young Thug.
“I killed a man in Birmingham / I hit him with a tire iron / He did not move and I do not give a damn,” a few lyrics from the song reads.
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