Capitol Hill Proposes RAP Act To Ban Lyrics From Criminal Cases

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On Tuesday (July 26), Congress proposed a law that would severely limit the use of rap lyrics as potential evidence during a criminal case.

Democratic United States reps Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) brought forth the Restoring Artistic Protection Act, which aims to amend criminal system law so defendants can’t be tried in court based on artistic expression, i.e., rap lyrical content.

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In the new bill revealed by Congressman Johnson via his official site, the legislation asserts that rappers have a right to freedom of artistic expression and speech, but their rights have been violated nationwide as artists’ musical works are being used against them in criminal court cases.

In a statement, Rep. Bowman stated that the U.S. judicial system impacts people of color disproportionately.

“Our judicial system disparately criminalizes Black and brown lives, including Black and brown creativity,” Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) declared in a statement revealing the RAP Act. “We cannot imprison our talented artists for expressing their experiences, nor will we let their creativity be suppressed.”

The Restoring Artistic Protection Act resembles the efforts of New York’s Rap Music on Trial bill as proposed by New York state senators Brad Hoylman and Jamaal Bailey in November 2021. It also reflects the structure of California’s Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act introduced by Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer, Sr in February 2022. Rap Music on Trial passed the state’s senate but ultimately failed to snag a vote in the New York Assembly. California’s bill has yet to undergo a vote within the state senate.

But, as with both of its predecessors, music industry icons have come out in support of the newly-proposed RAP Act.

According to Billboard, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. and Rico Love, chair of the academy’s Black Music Collective, made a joint statement regarding the RAP Act’s importance and offered their support for the two US reps.

“[It’s] a crucial step forward in the ongoing battle to stop the weaponization of creative expression as a prosecution tactic,” the duo said. “The bias against rap music has been present in our judicial system for far too long, and it’s time we put an end to this unconstitutional practice.”

Kevin Liles, the chairman and CEO of 300 Elektra Entertainment, has also offered his thoughts on the legislation. In addition, Liles spoke about the racial bias prevalent in criminal cases regarding rappers, declaring we, as a country, “must protect Black art.”

“Beyond the disregard for free speech protected by the First Amendment, this racially targeted practice punishes already marginalized communities and their stories of family, struggle, survival, and triumph,” he said. “Black creativity and artistry are being criminalized, and this bill will help end that. We must protect Black art.”

The RAP Act’s proposal arrives on the heels of Young Thug’s highly-publicized RICO case against his record label, Young Stoner Life. Thug’s lyrics were used as evidence against him and ultimately led to denying the artist bond, with a similar argument against Gunna. As a result, Young Thug and Gunna remain behind bars and remain in custody until trial, which is currently scheduled for January 9, 2023.

Read the RAP Act legislation in full here.

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