Artists, industry leaders, and legal experts have joined together in a call to “Protect Black Art,” publishing an open letter in the New York Times and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution urging legislators across America to limit how creative expression can be used against defendants on trial.
Specifically, it calls for an end to the racially discriminatory practice of treating rap lyrics as confessions. (See the full letter below.)
Artists and songwriters who have signed the letter include 2 Chainz, 21 Savage, 50 Cent, A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, Alicia Keys, Amy Allen, Baby Tate, Benson Boone, Big Sean, Black Eyed Peas, Breland, Brothers Osborne, Bryce Vine, Busta Rhymes, Camila Cabello, Christina Aguilera, Coldplay, Cordae, D-Nice, Dave East, DJ Drama, DJ Khaled, Drake, Erica Banks, Fat Joe, Fredo Bang, Future, Giveon, grandson, Highly Suspect, Hit-Boy, Ice-T, IDK, Isaiah Rashad, J. Cole, Jack Harlow, Jadakiss, Jay Electronica, Jeezy, Joey Bada$$, John Legend, KayCyy, Killer Mike, Lainey Wilson, Lil Baby, Lil Jairmy, Lil Tjay, Lil Uzi Vert, Mac Phipps, Mary J. Blige, Meek Mill, Megan Thee Stallion, Michelle Branch, Miguel, Moneybagg Yo, Morgan Wallen, NAV, Nessa Barrett, NLE Choppa, Normani, Omar Apollo, Pheelz, Polo G, Post Malone, Quavo, Questlove, Regina Spektor, Robin Thicke, Roddy Ricch, Shordie Shordie, Shy Carter, T.I., Takeoff, Tanna Leone, Teddy Swims, Tee Grizzley, Theo Croker, Travis Scott, Ty Dolla $ign, WILLOW, YBN Nahmir, and Yo Gotti.
The lengthy list of signatories includes companies such as Warner Music Group, Sony Music Group, Universal Music Group, BMG, Kobalt, and Atlanta-based LVRN and Quality Control, AEG Presents, Audiomack, Deezer, Live Nation Entertainment, SiriusXM, SoundCloud, Spotify, TIDAL, TikTok, and YouTube Music; organizations like the American Association of Independent Music, the American Civil Liberties Union, Artist Rights Alliance, Black Music Action Coalition, Black Women’s Roundtable, BLD PWR, Color of Change, Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, NYU Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law, People For the American Way, PEN America, Rap Coalition, the Recording Academy, the Recording Industry Association of America, Red Hot, Sankofa.org, Songwriters of North America, Sony Music Group’s Global Social Justice Fund, Warner Music Group / the Blavatnik Family Foundation’s Social Justice Fund, Woke Vote, and Universal Music Group’s Taskforce for Meaningful Change; legal and humanities scholars from elite universities including Columbia, Harvard, Howard, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale.
Drafted and published by Warner Music Group, the letter reads in part:
“Beyond the obvious disregard for free speech and creative expression protected by the First Amendment, this racially targeted practice punishes already marginalized communities and their stories of family, struggle, survival, and triumph.”
Experts have found more than 500 cases involving rap as evidence in public records, and they note this number is just the tip of the iceberg. For the most part, this does not account for indictment proceedings, juvenile cases, or cases that end in a plea bargain, and plea bargains are an overwhelming majority of outcomes in criminal prosecutions. Meanwhile, researchers have found only four instances since the 1950s of non-rap lyrics being submitted as evidence – three of those cases were thrown out, and the fourth was overturned after conviction.
Legislators at the state and federal level are already taking action. Governor Newsom recently signed a bill into law in California, and there are bills currently under consideration in New York and New Jersey, as well as the RAP (Restoring Artistic Protection) Act introduced by Rep. Hank Johnson and Rep. Jamaal Bowman in the U.S. Congress.
The #ProtectBlackArt movement began earlier this year when Liles and Greenwald launched a change.org petition, which today has nearly 65,000 signatures.
Kevin Liles, Chairman & CEO of WMG’s 300 Elektra Entertainment, said: “For decades, a racial double-standard has been employed against Black and Brown hip-hop artists by turning their creative visions against them in courts of law. Enough is enough. If prosecutors are unwilling to end this practice on their own, then laws need to be passed that end this flagrant abuse. On behalf of WMG, I want to thank the extraordinary group of people across our industry and the legal community who are joining us in this critical fight.”
Julie Greenwald, Chairman & CEO of WMG’s Atlantic Music Group, said: “Throughout history, artists have created characters and forged narratives that reflect the culture around them. That freedom of expression is essential to the creative process and the role of art in society. The harsh reality is that Black artistic creativity is being threatened at an unprecedented level, and we must make every effort to stop this unethical, discriminatory approach to prosecution.”
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