US Representatives Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) and Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) have proposed a federal law called the Restoring Artistic Protection (RAP) Act to limit the use of lyrics as evidence in criminal cases. The bill was introduced in Congress on Wednesday, July 27th.
“Our judicial system disparately criminalizes Black and brown lives, including Black and brown creativity,” Bowman said in a statement announcing the bill. “We cannot imprison our talented artists for expressing their experiences nor will we let their creativity be suppressed.”
Johnson added, “Freedom of speech is the constitutional foundation the framers thought necessary to enable a new and free society to craft not only its own destiny through commerce and innovations, but through culture, expression, and art.”
The RAP Act follows New York’s “Rap Music on Trial” bill, which passed the state’s Senate in May. California also has its “Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act,” which has cleared committee and is awaiting vote in the state Senate.
The bill’s introduction also comes after federal prosecutors introduced lyrics from nine of Young Thug’s songs as key evidence in a racketeering case earlier this year. It was just the latest instance in a long history of rappers’ lyrics being used against them in court.
In 2016, prosecutors cited the late Drakeo the Ruler’s song “Freestyle Flex” in a murder case against him and more recently, the lyrics of Tekashi 6ix9ine were introduced in court to compel the rapper into becoming a government witness and avoid harsher sentencing.
At this early juncture, the chances of the RAP Act passing into federal law are uncertain, but it has received strong support from the music industry. In a joint statement, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. and Rico Love, chair of the academy’s Black Music Collective, called it “a crucial step forward in the ongoing battle to stop the weaponization of creative expression as a prosecution tactic.”
They added, “The bias against rap music has been present in our judicial system for far too long, and it’s time we put an end to this unconstitutional practice We will continue to work closely with [Reps. Johnson and Bowman] to advance the protections in this bill that ensure all artists can create freely without fear of their work being criminalized.”
Most major labels, including Universal, Sony, Warner, Atlantic, and Elektra, have also expressed their support for the RAP Act.
Read the full text of the bill here.