As the Fulton County racketeering case against Young Thug and YSL Records continues to draw scrutiny for its use of the Atlanta rapper’s lyrics in its 88-page indictment, the movement to reform criminal law to limit this controversial practice made significant progress this week. Pitchfork reports that the New York State Senate has approved Senate Bill S7527 — aka known as the “Rap On Trial” law.
Sponsored by Senators Jamaal Bailey and Brad Hoylman and receiving support from rappers like Fat Joe, Jay-Z, Killer Mike, and Meek Mill, the Rap On Trial law would limit the use of artists’ lyrics as evidence unless prosecutors can prove that the raps are “literal, rather than figurative or fictional.” This could make it much more difficult for RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) cases to simply pull lyrics that mention suspected criminal organizations, such as the ones used against Young Thug. According to the State Senate website:
The purpose of this legislation is to protect freedom of speech and artistic expression in New York State. This bill effectuates the enhanced free speech protections provided by the New York State Constitution, ensuring that criminal defendants are tried based upon evidence of criminal conduct, not the provocative nature of their artistic works and tastes.
The bill must still pass the State Assembly to become law — love that bicameral Congress — and would require a signature from the Governor to become law, but should it do both, it would set a precedent for other states to follow to stop prosecutors from overreaching when it comes to rappers and their expression.