Two New York State senators have introduced a bill that will seek to prohibit using rap lyrics as evidence in criminal court cases. The bill is being referred to as the “Rap Music on Trial” bill, and it is seeking to prevent rappers from being indicted on charges related to the things they rap about in their music. Both of the Senators, Jamaal Bailey of the Bronx District and Brad Hoylman of Manhattan serve New York City, an area that has many musical artists, including many rap artists, some of whom have had their lyrics used against them in court to indict them on all sorts of charges. As for their reasoning for the bill, Hoylman has stated in a press release, “Art is creative expression, not a blueprint of criminal plans.” They see it as a continuation of the first amendment so that artists have more creative freedom to express themselves in their lyrics without fear of them being used against them as evidence.
The issue was brought to the forefront recently when New York rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine had his lyrics used against him in the trial, and he was compelled to become a witness for the prosecution to avoid a longer sentence because of it. Eventually, he was able to get off with a lesser sentence and now is in witness protection after initially facing potential life in prison. Earlier this year the practice of using lyrics as evidence was upheld by a Maryland court. Many lawmakers point out the hypocrisy of applying this logic to rap music lyrics, as countless songs have implications of violence or criminal activity, such as the famous Johnny Cash lyric “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.” For these songs, there is nowhere near the scrutiny there is for rap songs in the eyes of many lawmakers such as Bailey and Hoylman.