the law

Jay-Z, Meek Mill, and Others Urge Lawmakers to Stop Using Rap Lyrics As Evidence in Court

Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Several prominent rappers — including Jay-Z, Meek Mill, Killer Mike, and Fat Joe — lent their names to a letter supporting New York State Senate Bill S7527, a.k.a. “Rap Music on Trial.” The bill seeks to limit the use of rap lyrics as evidence in criminal cases, something that overwhelmingly affects Black and brown defendants. The letter, obtained by Billboard, states that rap is not afforded the same artistic leeway as other forms of art.

“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,’” the letter reads, “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 “Rap Music on Trial” bill passed in committee on Tuesday by an 8-4 vote, bringing it closer to a full Senate decision. A similar bill is awaiting a committee vote in the New York State Assembly. Lyrics were used as evidence in Drakeo the Ruler’s first trial, held in California. In January of last year, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that lyrics could be admitted as evidence of a defendant’s guilt in a murder trial, setting what attorney Dina LaPolt told Variety is “a dangerous precedent.”

Jay-Z Urges NY Courts to Stop Using Rap Lyrics As Evidence