California has a new law banning the use of a rap artist’s lyrics to prosecute crimes.
Focus of the legislation was Anere Brown, also known as X-Raided, who spent 26 years in prison. In his trial the prosecution played lyrics from his rap records and tied them to the Sacramento murder of community activist Patricia Harris, the Sacramento Bee reported Sept. 29.
Brown was 17 years old at the time of his conviction. Prosecutors used lyrics from his album “Psycho Active” to aid and ultimately prove their case.
“I don’t know how many calls for help were on my first album,” Brown said. “Looking back at that, it would be incredibly alarming to have some 17-year-old child write Psycho Active. The dark subject matter contained in that project should not have been in the brain of a 16 or 17-year-old child. It calls for concern.”
Prosecutors also used lyrics in prosecuting Shawn Thomas, another Sacramento rapper known as C-Bo. Prosecutors argued that his lyrics violated his parole.
The lyrics were in his 1998 song, “Deadly Game,” which also featured X-Raided. The words in the song were in response to California’s Three Strikes Law. They detailed how C-Bo felt; that as a Black man he was a target of the traditional establishment: law enforcement, the legal system, and the workplace.
Another musician prosecuted in part on the basis of lyrics was Donald Oliver, best known as Lavish D or CML.
“They look at who you’re associated with and group you in with them and assume they know what type of activities you’re into. You’re rapping about things that sound familiar and that’s when they get to picking through lyrics,” Oliver said. He called the practice a “lazy” investigative method that works to the detriment of Black artists.
Oliver noted that most rappers are not living the lives they portray in their music and some even have ghost writers penning lyrics for them.
The measure known as the “Rap Lyric Bill” because of the history of lyrics that depict life in Black communities serving as evidence in prosecuting hip hop musicians. It passed both houses of the Legislature unanimously, reported the Bee.
The law will potentially protect other kinds of artists, such as filmmakers and writers. The bill’s author, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, called the bill an attempt to limit opportunities for prosecutors to create “explicit or implicit bias” against a defendant.
“This bill is an acknowledgement of the systemic racism being involved. It is a huge thing for me. Because he specifies the intent behind this is not just to protect artist rights but also to protect minorities and people from disadvantaged backgrounds from being prosecuted and literally persecuted as well,” said Brown.