JAY-Z and Meek Mill Urge New York Lawmakers to Stop Rap Lyrics from Being Used in Court

·3 min read
Jay Z and Meek Mills
Jay Z and Meek Mills

Kevin Mazur/Getty

JAY-Z and Meek Mill are putting their weight behind a proposed New York State law that would block lyrics from being used during trials.

The rappers are joined by other artists including Fat Joe, Big Sean, Kelly Rowland and Robin Thicke in imploring lawmakers to sign the "Rap Music on Trial" bill (S.7527/A.8681) and turn it into law.

A letter obtained by PEOPLE from JAY-Z's attorney Alex Spiro and University of Richmond Professor Erik Nielson and signed by the musicians explains that "reform is urgently needed."

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The letter states, "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."

"This tactic effectively denies rap music the status of art and, in the process, gives prosecutors a dangerous advantage in the courtroom," the letter continues. "By presenting rap lyrics as rhymed confessions of illegal behavior, they are often able to obtain convictions even when other evidence is lacking."

The legislation from Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), Senator Jamaal Bailey (D-The Bronx), and Assembly member Catalina Cruz (D-Queens) was first proposed in November and passed through the New York Senate Codes committee on Tuesday, according to Rolling Stone, leading the way for a full vote on the Senate floor.

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The bill aims to limit the admissibility of a defendant's music as evidence shown during a criminal trial. According to the draft legislation, the bill would require prosecutors to provide "clear and convincing" evidence that a defendant's creative work is "literal, rather than figurative or fictional."

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"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," Fat Joe told Rolling Stone on Tuesday.

"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," he added.

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In a statement to the publication, Senator Bailey said the new bill would require prosecutors to show a "strong, factual nexus between the art and the facts of the case," instead of their music 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," the Senator added Tuesday.

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