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California has signed a new bill that restricts the usage of rap lyrics as evidence in criminal court cases.
The Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act was signed by Governor Gavin Newsom with rappers Killer Mike, Meek Mill, Too $hort, Ty Dolla $ign, YG, E-40 and Tyga all virtually sitting in on the signing.
Representatives for Songwriters of North America (SONA), the Black Music Action Coalition and the Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. also joined the proceedings.
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The bill, authored by Reggie Jones-Sawyer, is set to reduce racial biases in the criminal justice system and aims to protect an artist’s First Amendment rights, which guarantees freedom of speech.
The use of lyrics as evidence has been used in many cases including the high-profile case that saw Young Thug, Gunna, and several of their associates in jail with the prosecuting district attorney using their references to drugs, weapons, and violence as evidence of gang activity.
Both artists were assumed to be part of the “criminal street gang” YSL. Young Thug’s defence argued that the verdict was “based on inaccurate, misleading, erroneous information”.
Earlier in the year, rappers rallied together to protest for the ban of lyrics as evidence in court. Artists including Meek Mill, Jay-Z, Big Sean, and Fat Joe banded together to campaign for a new bill titled ‘Rap Music on Trial’.
“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,” said SONA’s Dina LaPolt according to Pitchfork.
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“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.”
“Today we celebrate an important victory for music creators in the state of California,” Harvey Mason Jr. added.
“Silencing any genre or form of artistic expression is a violation against all music people. The history that’s been made in California today will help pave the way forward in the fight to protect creative freedom nationwide. We extend our gratitude to Assembly member Jones-Sawyer for his leadership on this issue and to Governor Newsom for recognizing the importance of protecting artistry and signing the Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act into law.”
Becky Buckle is Mixmag’s Video and Editorial Assistant, follow her on Twitter
Written by: Tim Hopkins