NPR’s Ayesha Rascoe speaks with Democratic New York Congressman Jamaal Bowman concerning the RAP Act, which might bar the usage of music lyrics as proof in courtroom proceedings.
AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:
The Restoring Artists Safety Act, the RAP Act, is a proposal to restrict the usage of lyrics in federal legal proceedings, lyrics from songs like this one known as “Anyone” by Younger Thug and Nicki Minaj.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “ANYBODY”)
YOUNG THUG: (Rapping) I by no means killed anyone, however I bought one thing to do with that physique. I bought the streets on my again, carry it like I am transferring a physique.
RASCOE: These phrases are at present being offered alongside different proof within the case introduced in opposition to Younger Thug, Gunna and others in Atlanta. Consultant Jamaal Bowman of New York is a co-sponsor of the RAP Act, and he joins us now. Congressman, welcome to this system.
JAMAAL BOWMAN: Thanks a lot for having me.
RASCOE: In order that Atlanta case is ongoing, and clearly defendants are presumed harmless till confirmed responsible. However usually talking, if an individual is charged with a criminal offense and so they’ve made a selected reference to that crime in a track, what’s the subject with utilizing it as proof in a trial?
BOWMAN: Properly, first you must begin with arduous proof – forensic proof, witness testimony, weapons and the like. You understand, this isn’t nearly Younger Thug and Gunna. That is about over the past, I might say, a decade, the place in 500 separate instances, rap lyrics have been launched as a part of indictment and conviction proceedings compared to different genres of music. They’ve solely been used or launched 5 instances, and in all 5 of the opposite instances, the lyrics have been thrown out. And when you have arduous proof, forensic proof and a case with out the lyrics and also you wish to use lyrics or lyrics that reference a selected crime after you’ve gotten the arduous proof, you realize, that’s admissible.
RASCOE: Are you able to give us some examples of instances the place rap lyrics have performed a key half within the prosecution?
BOWMAN: So novice rappers Gary Bryant Jr. and Diallo Jackson had their convictions overturned not too long ago as a result of they have been convicted of homicide just about primarily based on their rap lyrics alone with out different proof. And that case may be very promising as a result of it creates a pathway ahead for a lot of different convictions to be overturned and for folks to grasp in my line of labor, significantly in Congress, that insurance policies like this want to maneuver ahead not simply on the federal stage, but additionally on the state stage.
RASCOE: I spoke with Pusha T, a rapper, earlier this 12 months, you realize, and he talked about how rap is about crafting a story. It is about storytelling. Folks take a look at rappers, and so they assume that they are type of, like, you realize, rapping their diary, that they are rapping about issues they really did. Why did you wish to draw this out into regulation to clarify that rap lyrics are additionally a type of inventive expression?
BOWMAN: Properly, first, there’s racism in our nation. There may be racial bias in our nation. And that racial bias is linked to hip-hop and rap for apparent causes, as a result of the style and the tradition and the artwork type is disproportionately Black and Latino. So what we discovered and what research have proven is when rap lyrics are launched, the racial bias kicks in, and folks mechanically imagine that what’s being mentioned is express and a documentary, if you’ll, of an individual’s life, of what they’ve finished. And consequently, they’re – they’re now thought-about to be responsible due to the bias.
RASCOE: You grew up listening to rap. You hearken to rap, proper?
BOWMAN: So my data of self got here from rap and hip-hop. I might not know my historical past and tradition as a Black man if it weren’t for KRS-One, Chuck D and Rakim. I would not have a political schooling and political perspective, particularly not the one I’ve now, if it weren’t for, you realize, Model Nubian, X Clan and plenty of different artists. You understand, lastly, I grew up and not using a father, and plenty of of those rappers have been father figures to me rising up and just about the superheroes that guided my life. So it is extremely private.
RASCOE: You understand, a part of the sausage-making of getting laws handed is getting the assist of curiosity teams. And in a case like this, I might assume that possibly assist from police unions or advocates from regulation enforcement may assist. Have you ever talked to any of these varieties of curiosity teams and even prosecutors, and so on., to see when you may get backing?
BOWMAN: Sure, significantly prosecutors. We’re having ongoing conversations with them. Regulation enforcement can also be going to be useful. We’ve not begun these conversations simply but. However clearly we wish to begin with our colleagues within the Home and Senate. We want a Senate lead. So we’re nonetheless going to be organizing to try to get somebody to tackle that lead. And we’re on the lookout for bipartisan assist within the Home as a result of, you realize, Republicans care about free speech, so they need to be prepared, prepared and excited to hitch a bit of laws like this.
RASCOE: You understand, on the finish of the day, that is clearly one thing that you just’re pursuing on the federal stage. What occurs on the state stage?
BOWMAN: You understand, California and New York are normally the states that lead on these points. And we hope that these states, along with the federal regulation, generally is a mannequin for different states to observe swimsuit. In the identical method, you realize, President Biden not too long ago pardoned the marijuana convictions of 6,500 folks charged with possession and is asking the states to observe swimsuit, we’re hoping the states observe swimsuit on what we’re attempting to do on the federal stage as nicely.
RASCOE: That is Consultant Jamaal Bowman of New York. Congressman, thanks a lot for becoming a member of us.
BOWMAN: No drawback. Thanks a lot for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
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