(NEW YORK)— A federal judge’s ruling that rap artist B.G. must turn over his written lyrics to probation officials before they are released is a “slap in the face” to the basic right to free expression, PEN America said today.

On July 2, U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan, who serves in the Eastern District of Louisiana, ruled that the rapper must submit his written lyrics to prosecutors before they are released as a condition of his supervised release for a 2011 firearm conviction.  Judge Morgan held that prosecutors’ proposed condition requiring B.G. to  refrain from promoting and glorifying future gun violence/murder” was likely an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech. But she held that the government’s stated interests were sufficient to justify a “special condition” of his release to ensure that his activities are consistent with “the goals of rehabilitation.”

Julie Trébault, managing director of Artists at Risk Connection, a program of PEN America, said: “Judge Morgan’s ruling is alarming and a slap in the face to the right to free expression. Monitoring the lyrics of a musician is a gross violation of artistic freedom; no artist’s creative work should be subjected to scrutiny by the law. This ruling essentially demands that rapper B.G. censor his work in order to maintain the conditions of his release, and it contributes to a dangerous pattern of speech repression that unequivocally targets Black artists.”

The New Orleans-born rapper Christopher Dorsey known by his stage name B.G. (short for “Baby Gangsta”), was sentenced in 2012 to 10 years in federal prison and two years of supervised release for felony gun possession and witness tampering. After earning his release last summer, B.G. — known for songs including “Bling Bling,” “Cash Money Is an Army,” and “Don’t Talk to Me” — was arrested in March for violations of the terms of his release by performing alongside rapper Lil Boosie and releasing an album with rapper Gucci Mane.

Authorities argued that these performances violated the requirement that he “obtain prior written approval…before entering self-employment” and refrain from “associating unnecessarily with” the two artists, as they both have felony convictions.

Like Judge Morgan’s ruling, this arrest is an example of the criminal justice system repressing artistic expression and impeding artists with felony convictions from pursuing their work.

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and former PEN America Writing for Justice fellow Mitchell S. Jackson submitted a powerful statement in support of Dorsey and artistic freedom to the court, writing that “rapping and writing about [lived experiences] serves as catharsis and a way of making sense of one’s circumstances, lives, we must never forget, that have been shaped by systemic forces.”

PEN America has spoken out in support of legislative efforts to protect the artistic freedom of rappers against the use of lyrics as evidence in criminal trials in California, New York, and by the federal government.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], (201) 247-5057