California Governor Gavin Newsom recently (September 31) signed a very important bill.
Newsom inked Assembly Bill 2799, also known as The Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act, which will limit the use of rap lyrics as evidence in criminal trials in California. The California State and Assembly unanimously approved the bill in August. It will require the court “to consider specified factors when balancing the probative value of that evidence against the substantial danger of undue prejudice” if a party seeks to admit “a form of creative expression” as evidence, with the term “creative expression” explicitly described as “the expression or application of creativity or imagination in the production or arrangement of forms, sounds, words, movements, or symbols, as specified.”
Rappers including Killer Mike, Meek Mill, Too $hort, Ty Dolla $ign, YG, E-40 and Tyga alongside Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. and leaders of the Black Music Action Coalition and Songwriters of North America all attended the virtual bill signing ceremony. Although the bill covers all forms of creative expression, it is even more essential to hip-hop artists, especially those whose lyrics have been used in court against them to prove guilt. Recently, Young Thug, Gunna and even the late LA rapper Drake the Ruler had their own lyrics used against them in charges ranging from murder to conspiracy to violate the RICO Act.
“For too long, prosecutors in California have used rap lyrics as a convenient way to inject racial bias and confusion into the criminal justice process,” Dina LaPolt, an entertainment attorney and the co-founder of Songwriters of North America, said in a statement. “This legislation sets up important guardrails that will help courts hold prosecutors accountable and prevent them from criminalizing Black and Brown artistic expression. Thank you, Gov. Newsom, for setting the standard. We hope Congress will pass similar legislation, as this is a nationwide problem.”
Mitch Glazier, chief executive of the music-industry trade group the Recording Industry Association of America, said in a statement, “This is a pivotal decision that will allow all creators to express themselves and follow their artistic vision without barriers of prejudice. All too often rap and hip-hop artists have suffered for the same kind of hyperbole and imagery other genres routinely use without consequence. With the signing of the California rap lyrics bill into law, voices that may have been stifled are now fully open to expression.”
The New York State Senate signed a similar bill that aimed to limit lyrics or any other “creative or artistic expression” to be used against the defendant in criminal cases. The next step for artists’ protection would be passage of a similar federal bill. The RAP (Restoring Artistic Protection) Act is beginning to work its way through the House of Representatives, spearheaded by Atlanta-area Rep. Hank Johnson and New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman.
Shout out to those out there really protecting freedom of speech and artistic expression!