Saturday, January 17, 2015

In Memoriam - Pamela Bridgewater

Pamela Bridgewater - RIP
On December 27, 2014, our community lost a fierce and devoted legal scholar, activist, teacher, and friend when Professor Pamela Bridgewater passed away after battling cancer for several years.  Pam lived a life full of giving mentorship and dedicated activism.  She was an innovator and a creative thinker.  She believed that the law could give voice to the powerless.  Pam was a feminist who wrote about reproductive rights.  Pam was a hip hop head that wrote about hip hop's impact on law and culture.  She co-founded this blog,  She founded Roots and Reality at American U. Law School.  She is the co-author of the forthcoming, first-of-its-kind casebook, Hip Hop and the Law (Carolina Academic Press).

Pam Bridgewater was all of these things and more.  To me, she was a soulful human being.  She cared about peace and justice.  She cared about the success and potential impact of her colleagues and friends.  She was gentle yet forceful when pushing for innovative change in the law or important revisions on book manuscripts.  Pam fought for affirmative action, recognition of equal marriage rights, reproductive rights for women and particularly women of color, and urged all who knew her to get behind these equal rights.

At base, Pam loved well, lived well, and left a legacy of mentorship, equality, and fierce activism.  She will be greatly missed by all who knew her.  She was loved by many.  Pamela Bridgewater's passing leaves a void in the legal academy that will be difficult to fill.

A memorial service will be held on Sunday, February 1, 2015, at the Women's National Democratic Club in Washington, D.C.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Hip Hop's Role in Teaching Communication Skills

Nick Sciullo
Hip Hop Law Blog contributor Nick Sciullo has a compelling piece up at Communication Currents entitled All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Hip-Hop: Hip Hop’s Role in Teaching Communication Skills.  In the post, Sciullo states:

"My argument is that hip-hop music is an increasingly effective tool for teaching communication. This is because many of today’s undergraduate and graduate students, as well as new professors in rhetoric, communication, and media studies grew up listening to hip-hop. Hip-hop music conveys myriad messages about love, life, law, ethics, and politics. Music has long played a central role in our lives, from the first album we bought with our own money to our prom songs, wedding songs, and the like. Many significant events and time periods in United States history, including the Civil Rights Movement, the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, become tied to music."

Check out the rest of the piece here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Gangsta Rap Lyrics as Evidence of Guilt?

Today, the New York Times caught up with what Professors Donald Tibbs and Andrea Dennis have been talking about, even sounding a warning bell against, for years.  In the Times story "Legal Debate on Using Boastful Rap Lyrics as a Smoking Gun," reporter Lorne Manly describes the growing trend amongst prosecutors across the nation to use gangsta rap lyrics in charging crimes and trying young black men primarily for crimes allegedly committed based on gangsta rap lyrics scribed by the young men charged.

Manly writes of the "more than three dozen prosecutions in the past two years in which rap lyrics have played prominent roles. The proliferation of cases has alarmed many scholars and defense lawyers, who say that independent of a defendant’s guilt or innocence, the lyrics are being unfairly used to prejudice judges and juries who have little understanding that, for all its glorification of violence, gangsta rappers are often people who have assumed over-the-top and fictional personas."

This story shines a spotlight on this "new," yet age-old practice of discriminatory prosecution, where primarily white prosecutors are seeking to convict primarily young men of color for hip hop lyrics used as evidence of guilt, when musical genres of all types engage in the same sort of specific violent and profane lyrics.  Of course, rock, country, and metal receive no attention from law enforcement, but instead are viewed as first amendment expression, rather than literal behavior. Manly writes "Those who oppose the use of the lyrics say prosecutors have singled out rap as a literal evocation of reality when the lyrics in other musical genres have long been acknowledged as fictional."

Friday, February 28, 2014

Michigan Law School Panel

On March 14, 2014, at the University of Michigan Law School, Professors Donald Tibbs and andré douglas pond cummings will present "Hip-Hop Mass Incarceration, and the Private Prison Industrial Complex" at 12 noon in Hutchins Hall, Room 100.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year

courtesy of Alex Simms/Wikimedia Commons

We at the Hip Hop Law Blog are grateful to our readers, commentators, and contributors.  Thanks to all of you that support our work, challenge our insights, and work with us toward social and racial justice. 

Happy New Year to all of our readers and supporters.  We wish everyone a safe and prosperous 2014.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Hip Hop and the Law: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement

Professors Donald Tibbs, Pamela Bridgewater and andré douglas pond cummings have agreed in principle to publish their anthology "Hip Hop and the Law: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement," with the Carolina Academic Press, slated to appear in Fall 2014.  This book project is based primarily on the Hip Hop and the American Constitution course offered in 2012 at Drexel Law and West Virginia Law, and the "Evolution of Street Knowledge" symposium hosted at WVU Law School, keynoted by Cornel West and Talib Kweli in 2009.

Hip Hop and the Law will feature 30 contributing authors who have critically interrogated American law through the lens of hip hop and the hip hop generation.  The subject matter ranges from constitutional issues such as search and seizure, copyright, trial by jury, prison policy, trademark to gender and hip hop and private prison corporate profit, and much more.  The anthology promises to be pathmarking. Updates will be provided periodically here at the Hip Hop Law Blog.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Papers of the 2012 Tupac Amaru Shakur Collection Conference: Hip Hop, Education & Expanding the Archival Imagination

The Papers of the 2012 Tupac Amaru Shakur Collection Conference: Hip Hop, Education & Expanding the Archival Imagination has now been published.  The file is available here.  Last Fall the Robert W. Woodruff Library at Atlanta University Center (Clark Atlanta University, Spellman College, Morehouse College, and Interdenominational Theological Center) hosted a conference that brought together scholars from across disciplines and across the world.  This blogs very own, andré douglas pond cummings and Nick J. Sciullo both presented.  Sciullo's paper can be found at pp. 32-37 of the conference proceedings.  

This interdisciplinary exploration of Tupac, hip-hop, and the archival imagination should be of tremendous interest to hip hop, law, criminology, and librarianship scholars.

-- Nick J. Sciullo

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Momentum Shift in the Failed War on Drugs

Important news last week out of Washington D.C.:  The Justice Department will not challenge state laws in Colorado and Washington that legalize marijuana and will abruptly change focus in the prosecution of the War on Drugs.  In what is no doubt bad news to the private prison industry, federal enforcement will now shift focus from scooping up low level, non-violent drug offenders and instead prioritize stopping large drug cartels and kingpin operations.

From CNN:  "Under the new guidelines,  federal prosecutors are required to focus on eight enforcement priorities, including preventing marijuana distribution to minors,preventing drugged driving, stopping drug trafficking by gangs and cartels and forbidding the cultivation of marijuana on public lands. . . . 

Nineteen states and the District ofColumbia allow some legal use of marijuana, primarily for medicinal
purposes.  The attorney general told  the Washington and Colorado governors that the Justice Department will work with the states to craft regulations that fall in line with the federal priorities, and reserves the right to try to block the laws if federal authorities find repeated violations."

As private prison profiteers have raked in billions of dollars of taxpayer money warehousing low level marijuana users, this shift in focus will now harm bottom line profitability.  Private prison corporations, perhaps anticipating the impending sea change, have already re-focused efforts to fill prison beds and maintain profitability by lobbying furiously for detention policies that imprison immigrants.  The next battle against the perverse incentives that motivate private prison corporations is shaping up to take place along immigration reform lines.

Hip hop has long exposed the discrimination and racism inherent in the prosecution of the War on Drugs calling for its end.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Failed War on Drugs and Hip Hop

Attorney General Eric Holder
Terrific news this week for those interested in fairness and justice in connection with the failed War on Drugs in the United States.  Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice will end its ridiculous prosecution of low level, non violent drug offenders as mandated for so long by the skewed sentencing guidelines, that locked up low level offenders for time periods one typically would associate with drug kingpins and cartel bosses.

Holder reasoned:  "'Too many Americans go to  too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason,' Holder told the American Bar Association's House of  Delegates in San Francisco.  He questioned some assumptions about the criminal justice system's approach to the 'war on drugs,' saying that excessive incarceration has been an 'ineffective and unsustainable' part of it.  Although he said the United States should not abandon being tough on crime, Holder embraced steps to address 'shameful' racial disparities in sentencing, the budgetary strains of overpopulated prisons and policies for incarceration that punish and rehabilitate, 'not merely to warehouse and  forget.'"

From the New York Times:  "In a major shift in criminal justice policy, the Obama administration moved . . . to ease the overcrowding in federal prisons by ordering prosecutors to omit listing quantities of illegal substances in indictments for low-level drug cases, sidestepping federal laws that impose strict mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses."

The Hip Hop Law Blog has often reported on the massive failures associated with the War on Drugs, including the perverse involvement of the private prison industry on the continuing incarceration of American citizens for "no truly good law enforcement reason," but instead to increase profits for executives and shareholders.  The private prison corporation regime has for years lobbied for draconian mandatory minimum sentences in order to increase the length of time that low level prisoners would remain incarcerated.

Artists like Talib Kweli, Lil' Wayne, Mos Def, Common, and many others have repeatedly pointed out the failures in the War on Drugs and the perversity of the prison industrial complex.

cross-posted on the Corporate Justice Blog.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Lauryn Hill Reports to Prison

Lauryn Hill - Wikimedia Commons/Brennan Schnell

Last week, Lauryn Hill's tax issues landed her in a prison cell.  Hill was sentenced to three months in federal prison for failing to file tax returns on earnings of more than $1.8 million purportedly collected on royalties between 2005 and 2007.  She will serve her three months in the low security female facility in Danbury, Connecticut.

Hill's prison sentence highlights the disparities that exist between artists and the music industry.  Hill has sold more than 16 million records, but "lives modestly considering the amount of money her music has earned for others."  When she appeared before the court in May 2013, she stated:  "Someone did the math, and [record sales] came to around $600 million, . . . And I sit here before you trying to figure out how to pay a tax debt? If that's not like enough to slavery, I don't know."

According to CNN Entertainment: "The U.S. attorney's office said that the income in question was earned mainly from music and film royalties that were paid to companies she owned from 2005 to 2008. According to the prosecutor, the sentence handed down 'also takes into account additional income and tax losses for 2008 and 2009 -- when she also failed to file federal returns -- along with her outstanding tax liability to the state of New Jersey, for a total income of approximately $2.3 million and total tax loss of approximately $1,006,517.'"

Following her three months in federal prison, Hill will serve three months of home confinement followed by a year of supervised probation.  Reportedly, Hill has signed a new record deal agreeing to produce new music in order to pay the fines, penalties and back taxes.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Hip Hop and the Law Isn't Just for the Academy: A Practitioner's Take on Kanye West and Family Law

From the email files...

Attorney Joshua E. Stern recently emailed to tell us about some work he had done on Kanye West and Illinois family law.  Have a question about child support?  Kanye's got your answers according to Stern in this post.

Joshua Stern works in Evanston, Illinois, not far from Northwestern University.  He received his J.D. from Emory and B.S. from DePaul.  While at Emory he worked on the Emory International Law Review.  And, aside from this impressive pedigree, he's a bit of a hip hop aficionado.

Councilor Stern's post highlights a key point we at HipHopLaw have been trying to make, namely that hip hop has influenced and will continue to influence lawyers, law students, legal activists, and legal scholars.  The point is not that hip hop solves all of the world's problems, or that only hip hop can help us understand the law, but is instead that hip hop is an important way many people come to understand the law and that to understand law we must be cognizant of the influences popular culture has on popular conceptions of law.  In short, hip hop can help us.  If  clients or students come into our office, sometimes it's easier to explain things using Kanye or Jay-Z than talking about Blackacre or a "bundle of rights."

How are other practitioners thinking about hip hop?  We'd like to know...

Photo credits: Law Offices of Joshua E. Stern and

-- Nick J. Sciullo

Monday, April 29, 2013

New Article: Tryon P. Woods in Social Text on postracialism and punishment

Tryon P. Woods has published "'Beat It like a Cop': The Erotic Cultural Politics of Punishment in the Era of Postracialism" in Social Text (Volume 31, Issue 1, Spring 2013, pp.21-41).  From the beginning of the article:

My concern in this essay is with how those of us involved with problems of black revolution—that is, with the crux of what it means to liberate humanity—can further develop a critical stance that deals honestly with the ethicopolitical context in which black art, black performance, black social movements, and black popular culture find expression.  I am, in  other words, interested in configuring the critical study of hip hop within an accounting of the materiality of antiblack sexual violence in which the  modern world is grounded, especially as hip hop emerges through the transmutation of the state’s terroristic repression of black revolution in the 1960s and 1970s into the sexualized violence of the present prison industrial complex.  My focus, then, is on how the context of a world in which, since the dawn of the African slave trade, black people are structurally positioned outside the human family, and its claims to integrity, honor, and visibility can inform how we read black expressive cultures.  I suggest that rigorous adherence to this context is rare in cultural critique. 

-- Nick J. Sciullo

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Copyright Fair Use Panel

Hip hop and copyright law are intimately connected.  Professors K.J. Greene and Andre Smith have argued that copyright law acted in the past and continues to act to stifle freedom, creativity and originality in hip hop music.  A symposium is being held at Thomas Jefferson School of Law on April 12, 2013, that will serve to enlighten all on recent changes in copyright law, particularly the fair use doctrine.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Will Hip Hop Solve Mass Incarceration?

We've all heard about the evils of mass incarceration, made perhaps most salient by Michelle Alexander's book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.  Reactions to the book have largely been positive and you need not look far to find a review of this important text (, New York Times, Boston Review, International Socialist Review, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Yale Daily News, Washington Lawyer, Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, and my own in the Texas Law Review Dicta are but a few of the many reviews).  Savvy Internet searchers that you are, I am sure you've also come across numerous reading groups, discussion board threads, and local meetings organizing people around the important issue of mass incarceration.  These are all great.

But, now what?  Alexander suggests we need a mass movement to end mass incarceration.  Russell Simmons and Dr. Boyce Watkins have joined forces to call on the White House to address mass incarceration.  They remain relatively quite about their plans however.  We do know that several hip-hoppers are involved including Lil' Wayne and Nicki Minaj. and have both reported this story.

Questions remain... What should we expect from Simmons and Watkins and their associated stars?  Will their work reach the masses who will need to join in the effort to end mass incarceration?  When will we have a better idea what Simmons and Watkins want and what their strategy is for achieving it?  Simmons and Watkins are surely doing important work, but we'll need to wait and see what becomes of their efforts.

-- Nick J. Sciullo