Gov. Newsom Signs Bill Restricting Use of Rap Lyrics as Evidence in California Criminal Trials

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill to restrict prosecutors from using rap lyrics as evidence against criminal defendants in California.

Newsom signed on the dotted line of a new bill — the Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act, also known as AB 2799 — on Friday, which advocates say will help protect artistic expression in hip-hop and rap.

The bill was approved by state lawmakers in August after mass backlash over the imprisonment of some big names in rap, including Young Thug, Gunna, and the late rapper Drakeo the Ruler.

Used as evidence against them were their song lyrics, as prosecutors alleged Young Thug formed a street gang and promoted it through his songs

A trial date is expected to take place on Jan. 9, 2023.

The case echoed that of late rapper Drakeo the Ruler, who was facing first-degree murder, attempted murder, and conspiracy to commit murder charges before his death in Dec. 2021.

The LA-based rapper, who was 28 when he died, had lyrics from his song “Flex Freestyle” pulled as evidence he killed a 24-year-old man. He was later acquitted.

Rappers Tyga, Meek Mill, Killer Mike, Too $hort, Ty Dolla $ign, YG, and E-40, were virtually present when Newsom signed the bill. 

The signing was also virtually attended by Calif. Rep. Reggie Jones-Sawyer and Harvey Mason Jr., CEO of The Recording Academy.

“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,” Dina LaPolt, co-founder of Songwriters of North America, said in a statement, according to Variety.

“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.”

“Not having this legislation has allowed people to utilize people’s creativity and lyrics against them when we know that’s not fair,” Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. said ahead of the signing. “I don’t think anybody in the studio when they’re in their cars in their garage or when they’re writing music, they shouldn’t be thinking about, ‘Is this going to be something that I shouldn’t say in art and music?’”

“We should be able to express ourselves. We should be able to say things that are on our minds and our hearts or in our imaginations without fear of somebody bringing this up in a courtroom,” he added.

Reporting by The New York Post.