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JAY-Z Leads Push To Block Prosecutors From Using Rap Lyrics In Court

Source: Kevin Mazur / Getty

There are quite a few rappers who could have benefited from this proposed law.

Per Rolling Stone, JAY-Z and many other giants in the music industry (no, this isn’t another Tidal announcement) are pushing for a proposed New York state law that will forbid prosecutors from using rap lyrics as “blueprints” to alleged crimes.

HOV is teaming up with his frequent REFORM Alliance partner Meek Mill, Fat Joe, Kelly Rowland, Yo Gotti, Robin Thicke, and other big names as celebrities signatories in an open letter. They are pushing state lawmakers and Gov. Kathy Hochul to make the proposed “Rap on Trial” bill a state law.

“This reform is urgently needed,” the new letter from JAY-Z’s lawyer Alex Spiro and co-written by University of Richmond Professor Erik Nielson, signed by the influential artists, reads. “Rather than acknowledge rap music as a form of artistic expression, police and prosecutors argue that the lyrics should be interpreted literally – 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.”

First unveiled in November, the proposed law has cleared one major hurdle, sailing through the Senate Codes committee on Tuesday (Jan.18), a significant first step to getting a full vote on the Senate floor. Speaking with Rolling Stone, JAY-Z’s lawyer Alex Spiro said on the importance of the issue with his client:

“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. Mr. Carter is from New York, and if he can lend his name and his weight, that’s what he wants to do.”

Spiro, who also helped co-write the letter with the University of Richmond Professor Erik Nielson, the author of the book “Rap on Trial” with University of Georgia law professor Andrea Dennis, thinks this law could spread to other states. “By changing the law here, you do a lot of good for the cases that it affects, but you also send a message that progress is coming. We expect it will be followed in a lot of places,” Spiro said.

“Our lyrics are a creative form of self-expression and entertainment – just like any other genre. 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,” Bronx Hip-Hop legend Fat Joe added.

One person who could have used this law is the late Drakeo the Ruler, who was subject to a prosecutor’s egregious use of lyrics stemming from beef with another rapper, RJ, born Rodney Brown. Drakeo the Ruler was acquitted in the 2016 murder of a 24-year-old man outside of a party in Carson, California. He still spent three years in prison as prosecutors failed to build a case against him, trying to use his lyrics from his 2016 song “Flex Freestyle,” even though they knew he didn’t pull the trigger.

During his RICO trial, prosecutors tried to use the lyrics from his song “GUMMO,” but he was given the opportunity to explain what those lyrics meant to the court and judge.

Photo: Kevin Mazur / Getty