Johnson, Bowman Back Bill to Protect Rappers Over Lyrics

Johnson, Bowman Back Bill to Protect Rappers Over Lyrics

April 28, 2023

House Democrats are pushing a new bill that would make it illegal for prosecutors to use violent lyrics by rap artists against them in court if they commit crimes, citing First Amendment protections, according to Fox News.

On Thursday, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) announced they would reintroduce the Restoring Artist Protection Act, or RAP Act. The bill would protect artists from the use of their lyrics against them in criminal and civil proceedings, a practice that’s more common in cases involving hip-hop artists.

The pair introduced the bill last Congress, but it failed to gain any traction. The measure, they say, would add a presumption to the Federal Rules of Evidence that would limit the admissibility of evidence of an artist’s creative or artistic expression against that artist in court.

The underpinning of such a law, they say, is the freedom of expression granted by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“This legislation is long overdue,” Rep. Johnson said in a statement Thursday. “For too long, artists — particularly young Black [sic] artists — have been unfairly targeted by prosecutors who use their lyrics as evidence of guilt, even though there is no evidence that the lyrics are anything more than creative expression. When you allow music and creativity to be silenced, you’re opening the door for other realms of free speech to be curtailed as well. The government should not be able to silence artists simply because they write, draw, sing or rap about controversial or taboo subjects.”

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) predictably backed the measure in a press conference Friday.

“I don’t think that art and creativity should be weaponized in the criminal justice system, and hopefully we’ll be able to have some bipartisan support to move that legislation forward,” Jeffries said.

“Rap, hip-hop and every lyrical musical piece is a beautiful form of art and expression that must be protected,” Rep. Bowman said in a statement. “Evidence shows when juries believe lyrics to be rap lyrics, there’s a tendency to presume it’s a confession, whereas lyrics for other genres of music are understood to be art, not factual reporting.”

That’s not due to racism. It’s because rap lyrics are uniquely violent and misogynist, and rappers have a far greater tendency to commit actual crimes than other musical artists do. That’s because committing crimes, especially violent ones, lends credibility to a rapper; that’s not the case with artists on other genres.

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