Jay-Z leads a group of music industry giants who support a New York state law to prevent prosecutors using rap lyrics to create blueprints for alleged crimes. Rolling Stonehe has learned.
The rap superstar, born Shawn Carter, is teaming up with Meek Mill, Big Sean, Fat Joe, Kelly Rowland, Yo Gotti, Killer Mike, Robin Thicke, and others as celebrity signatories on a new letter urging state lawmakers — and ultimately Gov. Kathy Hochul — to make the recently proposed bill titled “Rap Music on Trial” (S.7527/A.8681) a state law.
On Tuesday, the legislation, which was first revealed in November, passed through the Senate Codes Committee. This marked the first step towards a full vote on senate’s floor.
“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,” Jay-Z’s lawyer Alex Spiro, a partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, tells Rolling Stone.
Spiro wrote the letter in collaboration with Erik Nielson (University of Richmond), who also authored the book. “Rap on Trial”Andrea Dennis, University of Georgia Law Professor. The lawyer said he and Hova — who previously fought back against the lack of racial diversity on arbitration panels, leading to national reforms — consider the proposed legislation a bellwether that 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,”Fat Joe said Rolling StoneTuesday
“This reform is urgently needed,”The new letter to Spiro and Nielson was signed by the prominent artists. “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.”
The new legislation from Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), Senator Jamaal Bailey (D-The Bronx), and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz (D-Queens) would amend state law to limit the admissibility of a defendant’s music or other “creative expression”A jury may be presented with evidence. The draft legislation would establish a new standard for prosecutors, requiring them to provide evidence to a jury. “clear and convincing evidence” that a defendant’s creative expression, such as a rap song, is “literal, rather than figurative or fictional.”
“It’s humbling to have the who’s who of hip-hop supporting this legislation. I think it points to how important it is in this moment to protect freedom of expression,”Hoylman retorted Rolling StoneTuesday
He had previously stated that Johnny Cash is not believed by anyone “shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”Or that David Byrne has a “psycho killer,”Rap musicians in criminal cases are constantly in danger of having their lyrics used against the artist in front of criminal juries.
Before his senseless murder last month, Los Angeles rapper Drakeo the Ruler was subjected to one of the most egregious cases where lyrics were used to bolster a prosecutor’s theory of culpability.
Drakeo, who was born Darrell Caldwell in 2016, was eventually acquitted in 2016 of the murder of a 24-yearold man outside a Carson, California party. He spent three more years in prison, as prosecutors tried unsuccessfully to build their case against him. Although investigators agreed from the start he didn’t pull the trigger, they relentlessly targeted him with the theory the fatal shooting stemmed from his beef with the rapper RJ, born Rodney Brown.
During Caldwell’s trial in Compton, California, prosecutors introduced the lyrics from his 2016 song “Flex Freestyle,”To convince jurors, he sent armed associates to Carson party to attack RJ.
“I’m ridin’ around town with a Tommy gun and a Jag/And you can disregard the yelling, RJ tied up in the back,”According to the lyrics, Meanwhile, RJ wasn’t even at the party.
“I didn’t even think they could do that,”Caldwell said Rolling Stone During a November telephone interview. “I heard about them doing it before, but it was just the way they were doing it. How they were using it against me. It didn’t make no sense. It was just crazy.”
In a statement, Senator Bailey stated that this new bill will make it illegal in New York. This is because the prosecutors will need to show evidence. “strong, factual nexus between the art and the facts of the case,”Instead of using creativity to create a theory.
“Presuming a defendant’s guilt based solely on musical genre or creative expression is antithetical to our foundational rights and perpetuates the systemic racism that is embedded into the criminal justice system through discriminatory conflations of hip-hop and rap with criminality,”Bailey stated this Tuesday in a statement.