Creative expression has scored a major victory in California, as Governor Gavin Newsom has signed a bill restricting rap lyrics from being used as evidence in court. The Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act was unanimously approved by the state’s senate and assembly back in August before being signed into law.
Per Variety, a virtual signing ceremony was held featuring speeches from rappers including Killer Mike, Meek Mill, Too $hort, YG, E-40, and more. CEO of the Recording Academy Harvey Mason Jr. and leaders from the Black Music Action Coalition and Songwriters of North America also joined the ceremony.
“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, entertainment attorney and 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..”
Black Music Action Coalition co-founder Willie “Prophet” Stiggers added, “The signing of AB 2799 (The Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act) into California law is a huge victory for the artistic and creative community, and a big step in the right direction towards our federal legislation — The RAP Act (Restorating Artistic Protection Act) — preventing the use of lyrics as the sole basis to prosecute cases. The Black Music Action Coalition applauds Governor Newsom for his willingness to stand with Artists and defend our First Amendment right to freedom of speech.”
Prosecutors have a long history of using rappers’ lyrics against them in court. One of the most recent examples is a racketeering case against Young Thug. Several of his songs have been entered as key evidence by prosecutors in Georgia during an ongoing trial that also involves fellow Atlanta rapper Gunna.
The new California legislation could give momentum to a proposed federal law called the Restoring Artistic Protection (RAP) Act, which was introduced into Congress by US Representatives Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) and Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) in late July.
The Recording Academy, Black Music Action Coalition, and Songwriters of North America have all expressed their support for the RAP Act, as have most major labels. Learn more about the bill here.