Rappers have had the law come down on them in various forms, but one method that has become alarming to many is the usage of their lyrics against them in criminal cases with Tekashi 6ix9ine being a prime example. But a new proposal seeks to halt that tactic.
Democratic New York State Senators Brad Hoylman of Manhattan and Jamaal T. Bailey of the Bronx introduced Bill S.7527 yesterday (November 17th) during an assembly session. The bill, entitled “Rap Music on Trial”, looks to limit how all art including rap lyrics can be used during a trial unless it can be definitively proven that the art is literal and factual and has a “distinct probative value” to the case. Both lawmen cite the Tekashi 6ix9ine case of 2019, where his lyrics were “used to compel Hernandez into becoming a government witness to avoid harsher sentencing” prosecuting the Nine Trey Gangsters organization.
In the press release about the bill, Senator Bailey said: “The right to free speech is enshrined in our federal and state constitutions because it is through this right that we can preserve all of our other fundamental rights. The admission of art as criminal evidence only serves to erode this fundamental right, and the use of rap and hip-hop lyrics, in particular, is emblematic of the systemic racism that permeates our criminal justice system.” Senator Hoylman concurred, stating in the press release: “It’s time to end the egregious bias against certain genres of music, like rap, and protect the First Amendment rights of all artists.”
Rap lyrics being used as evidence in criminal trials have been on the rise since 2016, as rapper Drakeo the Ruler was sent to prison after his lyrics were used against him in relation to a murder in Carson, California. He would be acquitted afterward, but the case led to hundreds of other cases where the tactic has been used. Rappers such as Killer Mike, Meek Mill, and Fat Joe among others were part of an amicus brief decrying the tactic in a trial initiated by Mayhem Mal (aka Jamal Knox), a Pennsylvania rapper sentenced to two years in prison after his lyrics were used against him in a separate trial. The ACLU has also spoken out against this tactic citing a case in Tennessee in 2015.