The Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act, or AB 2799, is the first measure of its sort and was created in response to the government’s use of song lyrics to convict rappers Young Thug and Gunna. Rap lyrics can no longer be used as circumstantial evidence in California, making it the first state in the United States to do so.
On Friday, Governor Newsom signed legislation that will restrict the state’s use of “creative content” against rappers and singers. They are not allowed to use their lyrics as evidence unless a court examines them and finds them to be necessary.
Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer, who introduced the bill, stated that AB 2799 “will give judges needed guidance for evaluating whether a creative expression is admissible during a criminal trial and provides a framework which will ensure creative expression will not be used to trigger or reinforce stereotypes or activate racial bias.”
Dina Polt, an entertainment attorney, also said in part:
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.
A similar bill was also introduced to Congress by lawmakers in July. According to Billboard, the ‘Restoring Artistic Protection Act,’ also known as the RAP Act, would limit the use of artistic or creative evidence against the person who created it.
Music industry professionals have been lobbying for a law of this kind for years. Of course, with such a split congress, it’s unclear whether the new federal bill has any real chance of passage. Artists have celebrated today’s announcement like #MeekMill, who’d had his music cited during a previous run-in with the law.
Chairman and CEO Kevin Liles of 300 Elektra Entertainment called out the prosecutors during Young Thug’s bond hearing last month for attempting to use the rapper’s lyrics to prosecute him, saying:
This racially targeted practice punishes already marginalized communities and their stories of family, struggle, survival, and triumph. Authorities are criminalizing black creativity and artistry, and this bill will help end that. We must protect Black art.
Most recently, a judge prevented prosecutors from using NBA YoungBoy’s lyrics against him in a federal firearms case.
NBA YoungBoy‘s trial for gun possession began on Tuesday (July 12). In a ruling in court today, Judge R. Gary Klausner of the Central District of California shut down the prosecution’s attempts to use the Baton Rouge, La. rhymer’s lyrics as evidence. XXL has confirmed the ruling.
NBA Youngboy was later found not guilty of all charges.