Coldplay, Megan Thee Stallion, and Future are among a group of rappers and music industry figures calling for regulations on the use of rap lyrics as criminal evidence in US court.
A new open letter titled Art on Trial: Protect Black Art includes signatories such as Alicia Keys, Post Malone, and 50 Cent, alongside the three prominent record labels, Warner, Sony, and Universal, and big tech companies such as TikTok, Spotify, and YouTube Music.
The letter, which was written by Warner and broadcasted by the same company on 1 November in the New York Times and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, seeks to stop the “racially targeted” procedure of using rap proofs in trials, and for lawmakers at the state and federal level to restrict how such laws can be operated against defendants.
The letter marks the allegations facing the rapper Young Thug Jeffery Lamar Williams and other associates of his Young Stoner Life record label.
In May, Young Thug's lyrics were cited in an indictment for suspicion of gang involvement and other violations, as they allegedly formed “an overt act in furtherance of this conspiracy”. Lyrics by label associate Gunna were charged with the same offense.
Both artists have claimed not guilty and stay in prison ahead of their trials. Prosecutors have alerted that they could encounter witness pressure if released.
“The use of lyrics against rappers in this way is un-American and simply incorrect,” the letter continues, directing to the “obvious disregard” for free speech protected by the first amendment, as well as the ability to further penalize marginalized communities and their stories.
Further signatories include Christina Aguilera, Killer Mike 2 Chainz, Travis Scott, John Legend, and Mary J Blige.
The practice has previously been limited in California by Governor Gavin Newsom.
The suggested modification to legislation in the New York state was first suggested in November 2021 by state senators Brad Hoylman and Jamaal Bailey, who aimed to stop prosecutors from using the method except in cases of “obvious and clear proof” of a link between lyrics and a crime.
The use of rap lyrics in court is similarly controversial in the UK. Prosecutors in a killing case against drill rapper Unknown T tried to use his lyrics as proof: this was intercepted by a judge and the rapper was absolved in 2020.