Warner Music Group (of which Uproxx is an independent subsidiary) drafted and published an open letter in The New York Times today titled “Art on Trial: Protect Black Art” demanding the end of the use of rap lyrics in criminal trials. The letter was also published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which serves the region where Young Thug and Gunna of YSL Records — also Warner artists — are awaiting trial in a high-profile racketeering case which famously uses the rappers’ lyrics as evidence of their membership in a criminal conspiracy.
And while WMG drafted the document, it was cosigned by all three major labels including Sony Music Group and Universal Music Group, as well as affiliates, competitors, and partners such as AEG Presents, BMG Live Nation, SiriusXM, Spotify, TikTok, and YouTube Music. Artists who added their signatures to the letter include representatives of all three labels and multiple genres, such as 2 Chainz, 50 Cent, Alicia Keys, Camila Cabello, Christina Aguilera, Coldplay, DJ Khaled, Drake, Future, J. Cole, Jack Harlow, John Legend, Killer Mike, Lil Baby, Mary J. Blige, Megan Thee Stallion, Morgan Wallen, Omar Apollo, Post Malone, Questlove, Roddy Ricch, T.I., Travis Scott and Ty Dolla Sign.
“More than any other art form, rap lyrics are essentially being used as confessions in an attempt to criminalize Black creativity and artistry,” the letter reads.
So-called “Rap On Trial” laws have been proposed at both the state and federal levels seeking to limit the use of rap lyrics as evidence, as high-profile cases like the ones for YSL, several New York drill rappers, and Baton Rouge rapper YoungBoy Never Broke Again critically placed rappers’ rhymes at the forefront. California signed one such bill into law just a few months ago. Taking raps at face value when they could just as easily be fictional, exaggerated, editorialized, or metaphorical runs the risk of not just limiting artistic expression but putting innocent creators at risk of conviction solely because of the content they choose to rap about (do all these District Attorneys really think Lupe Fiasco has a giant robot???).
Hopefully, with so much of the recording industry pushing to end this practice, those prosecutors will at least think twice before issuing indictments based solely on star power and a few references from a song or two. You can read the full letter here.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.