California’s Rap Lyrics Bill Becomes State Law

California governor Gavin Newsom signed the state legislature’s Assembly Bill 2799—also known as the Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act—into law today, preventing the use of rap lyrics in prosecutions. Killer Mike, Meek Mill, E-40, Ty Dolla $ign, and Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason, Jr. were among those present for the virtual signing ceremony. Representatives for Songwriters of North America and the Black Music Action Coalition also joined the proceedings. The bill is aimed at reducing racial biases in the criminal justice system.

“For too long, prosecutors in California have used rap lyrics as a convenient way to inject racial bias and confusion into the criminal justice process,” said SONA’s Dina LaPolt in a statement about the bill. She continued, “This legislation sets up important guardrails that will help courts hold prosecutors accountable and prevent them from criminalizing Black and Brown artistic expression. Thank you, Gov Newsom, for setting the standard. We hope Congress will pass similar legislation, as this is a nationwide problem.”

Lyrics have been a central and controversial tool leveraged by prosecutors in several recent high-profile cases, including the May RICO sweep that landed Young Thug, Gunna, and several of their associates in jail. The prosecuting district attorney has maintained that their references to drugs, weapons, and violence are evidence of gang activity. California’s state legislature approved and passed the bill to Newsom’s desk in late August. Advocates for California’s new law are continuing to push for federal legislation to the same end, the Restoring Artistic Protection (RAP) Act. 

Read Pitchfork’s feature “What Young Thug and Gunna’s Indictment Means for Rap Music on Trial.”