Megan Thee Stallion, Coldplay, 50 Cent, Mary J. Blige and Future are some of the artists and companies in the sector who are urging the US judicial system to restrict the use of lyrics from rap songs as evidence in trials.
Art on Trial: Protect Black Art” is a new open letter signed by artists along with three major record labels, Warner, Sony and Universal, and companies such as Spotify, TikTok and YouTube Music, to push for change.
Post Malone, Travis Scott, Alicia Keys, 2 Chainz, Christina Aguilera and John Legend also signed the letter, drafted by Warner and published today (November 1) in The New York Times and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. There is a petition on Change.org that collects the demands of the letter.
In the letter, the signatories urge prosecutors to end the “racially selective” practice of using rap evidence in trials. They are also asking lawmakers at the state and federal level to limit the use of these types of posts against defendants.
“In the US courts, the trend of prosecutors to use the creative expression of artists against them is happening more often… Rappers are storytellers, who create a whole world of complex characters who can be a hero and in their birds. another art form, rap lyrics are basically being used as a confession to try to criminalize black creativity and art,” reads part of the letter.
The letter refers to the allegations facing Jeffery Lamar Williams (aka Young Thug) and other members of his record label Young Stoner Life.
Earlier this year, the rapper’s lyrics were cited in an indictment for suspected gang involvement and other crimes, as they were alleged to constitute “an overt act in furtherance of this conspiracy”. Young Thug’s label mate Gunna’s lyrics were also accused of the same offence.
Young Thug and Gunna pleaded not guilty and remain in jail awaiting trial.
In August, the Fulton County District Attorney said she will continue to use lyrics from rappers like Young Thug and Gunna as evidence during the prosecution.
Elsewhere in the letter the “blatant disregard” for freedom of speech and creative expression, which is protected by the first amendment to the United States Constitution, is mentioned.
The argument to restrict the use of rap lyrics as evidence in US courts was led in January by artists including Jay-Z, Kelly Rowland and Meek Mill.
Last November, state senators Brad Hoylman and Jamaal Bailey proposed a change to New York state law for the first time. They wanted to prevent prosecutors from using song lyrics in this way, except in cases where there was “clear and convincing evidence” of a link between the lyrics and a crime. Since then, the practice has been limited in California.
Meanwhile, in January, the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced it was reviewing its guidance on the use of punchline lyrics as evidence against defendants in criminal trials.
British rapper Digga D was landed with a criminal behavior order in 2018. The order banned him from using certain names, places and themes in his lyrics.