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300 and Atlantic chiefs call for wider Rap On Trial legal reforms

By | Published on Friday 10 June 2022

Young Thug

300 Entertainment CEO Kevin Liles and Atlantic Records US COO Julie Greenwald are urging the American music community to sign a petition calling for states across the US to consider legal reforms like the ‘Rap On Trial’ bill currently being considered in New York State. The call comes as 300-allied artists Young Thug and Gunna face criminal charges in Georgia where prosecutors are relying on the rappers’ creative output as evidence.

The legal reforms in New York are contained in Senate Bill S7527 and aim to ensure that where defendants in a criminal case also make music – and especially rap music – there are restrictions on presenting those defendants’ lyrics as evidence. It was recently passed by the New York Senate and has now proceeded to the New York Assembly for consideration.

The bill itself describes its mission as follows: “The purpose of this legislation is to protect freedom of speech and artistic expression in New York State. This bill effectuates the enhanced free speech protections provided by the New York State Constitution, ensuring that criminal defendants are tried based upon evidence of criminal conduct, not the provocative nature of their artistic works and tastes”.

Meanwhile, down in Georgia, Young Thug and Gunna were among 28 people arrested last month accused of involvement in a gang that allegedly committed murders, shootings and carjackings. Among other things, the accused face charges under the Racketeer Influenced And Corrupt Organisations Act, which seeks to fight organised crime across the US. Past lyrics from both rappers are included in the evidence produced against them by the prosecution.

Young Thug formed his label Young Stoner Life Records in partnership with 300 Entertainment and its distributor Atlantic Records back in 2016, with Gunna its first signing. In a letter to their contacts in the music community, Liles and Greenwald raise specific concerns about the prosecutions in Georgia and the use of lyrics by prosecutors, before adding that this is part of a wider problem of black creativity and artistry “being criminalised”.

The letter begins: “Those of you who know us well know that we have a hard time seeing wrong done in front of our eyes and not doing something about it. That’s why we’ve created a petition we would ask you to sign and share to help us protect black art”.

Honing in on the Young Thug and Gunna arrests, they go on: “As you may know, currently in Georgia, multiple artists belonging to Young Stoner Life Records – including celebrated artists like Young Thug and Gunna – are facing more than 50 allegations, including RICO charges which claim the record label is a criminal gang. The allegations heavily rely on the artists’ lyrics that prosecutors claim are ‘overt evidence of conspiracy'”.

“Weaponising creative expression against artists is obviously wrong”, they add. “But what gets us so upset is what’s happening to Young Thug, Gunna and YSL is just the most high-profile case. In courtrooms across America, black creativity and artistry is being criminalised. With increasing and troubling frequency, prosecutors are attempting to use rap lyrics as confessions, just like they’re doing in this case”.

“This practice isn’t just a violation of First Amendment protections for speech and creative expression”, they argue, “it punishes already marginalised communities and silences their stories of family, struggle, survival and triumph. It is a racially targeted attack, and this shameful and un-American practice must end”.

Citing the proposed legal reforms in New York, they explain: “Others like our friends Jay-Z, Meek Mill, Reform Alliance and many more have been working on this issue for some time, and there’s a bill recently passed by the New York State Senate – S.7527, better known as the ‘Rap Music On Trial’ Bill – that’s now up for vote in the New York State Assembly. We need to step up, support these efforts, and get this bill across the finish line”.

“We need to urge the prompt adoption of legislation at the federal and state level that would limit how prosecutors can use creative and artistic expression as evidence against defendants in criminal trials”, they continue. “It’s our hope that this legislation and similar bills will become law across America to end this attack on our First Amendment freedoms that disproportionately harms black and other minority artists”.

Those who support Liles and Greenwald in this domain are encouraged to sign this petition.

This story is discussed on this edition of our Setlist podcast.

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