California first state to restrict use of rap lyrics as evidence in criminal cases

California on Friday became the first state in the country to limit prosecutors use of rap lyrics as evidence in criminal cases.

Assembly Bill 2799 requires a pre-trial hearing to determine if the lyrics are relevant to the case.

Assembly member Reginald Jones-Sawyer Sr. championed AB 2799 and said the law will help protect rap artists, who are predominantly Black and their freedom of speech. He also says he hopes the law will help eliminate any racial bias that may exist when presenting evidence.  

"Their stage name might be Little Murder, but that doesn’t mean they’re a murderer," Jones-Sawyer previously stated.

The assemblymember who represents District 59, said the bill had garnered support among music industry groups and civil rights advocates alike.

"We found that the lyrics that they were using in the court to prosecute someone, those weren’t even that person’s lyrics. It was written by someone else. The music was written by someone else, and they were just performing it," he said.

The most recent example of this involves the racketeering trial of Jeffrey Williams, better known as Young Thug, and Sergio Kitchens, known as the rapper Gunna. The two high-profile rappers were arrested in Atlanta on gang charges and their lyrics were quoted in the indictment.

"That’s the big pull between the perception in the media and what sells, and what’s really happening behind the scenes, the underground," said Rod ‘RaJaii’ Davis, Singer and Hip Hop choreographer.  

Rod Davis or RaJaii, is a Bay Area singer and hip hop dance teacher who has taught students his moves for San Jose State’s Hip Hop Club.  

"I just don’t think that it’s fair to want to promote the violence to sell it, but also want to use that same to then incriminate," Davis said.  

"This is about justice. This is about making sure that the court system looks at that individual and not what people think about that individual," said Jones-Sawyer.