RAP Act To Limit Use of Lyrics in Criminal Trials Reintroduced – Rolling Stone

Congressmen Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) have reintroduced the Restoring Artist Protection or RAP Act, a legislation that, if passed, would limit the use of song lyrics for use in criminal proceedings.

The bill’s proponents — including music executives from the Recording Academy and its Black Music Collective — say using lyrics in criminal trials discourages freedom of speech and that the RAP Act is a necessary change to shield artists’ freedom of expression.

“This legislation is long overdue,” Johnson said while announcing the act’s re-introduction on Thursday. “For too long, artists – particularly young Black artists – have been unfairly targeted by prosecutors who use their lyrics as evidence of guilt, even though there is no evidence that the lyrics are anything more than creative expression. When you allow music and creativity to be silenced, you’re opening the door for other realms of free speech to be curtailed as well. The government should not be able to silence artists simply because they write, draw, sing, or rap about controversial or taboo subjects. ”

Bowman echoed that sentiment, honing in on the racial divide that particularly impacts Black artists. Rap lyrics, he said, are disproportionately viewed as proof of legal claims compared to other genres.

“Our judicial system disparately criminalizes Black and Brown people, including Black and Brown creativity,” he said in a statement. “For example, Tommy Munsdwell Canady is a young 17-year-old kid serving a life sentence whose conviction heavily relied upon lyrics he wrote. I was deeply moved to hear that Mr. Canady continues to pursue his art in the face of our carceral systems that would otherwise stifle Black art. He is not an outlier. Evidence shows when juries believe lyrics to be rap lyrics, there’s a tendency to presume it’s a confession, whereas lyrics for other genres of music are understood to be art, not factual reporting.”

The bill had previously been introduced during the last congressional session, but because it wasn’t enacted before the last session ended, it needed to be reintroduced again.


The Recording Academy claims that there have been about 500 cases over the past 20 years where prosecutors have used lyrics in a criminal trial. Notably, Young Thug’s lyrics were cited as evidence during the rapper’s ongoing RICO trial in Georgia. Last summer, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis told reporters that she had no plans to stop using lyrics in trials. The issue has been a growing concern among artists and advocates, and some states like California have already passed laws to limit the use of lyrics as evidence.

“We must safeguard artists’ freedom to create at all costs and work to eradicate the biases that come with the unconstitutional practice of using lyrics as evidence,” Recording Academy chairman and CEO Harvey Mason Jr and Black Music Collective Chair Rico Love said in a statement. “We are grateful to Congressmen Johnson and Bowman for their unwavering commitment to music people and look forward to working alongside them to advance this issue.”

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