Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Fairey Update: Former NY Times Art Director Declares "Fairey Is No Crook"

Author and blogger Steven Heller, a former art director at The New York Times and co-chair of the MFA Design Department at the School of Visual Arts, wrote a thoughtful critique of the criticism of Shepard Fairey’s use of artistic works in his artistic activism. Food for thought as the debate wages on.

Also check out the scathing 2007 essay by Mark Vallen, entitled "Obey Plagiarist Fairey," which accuses Fairey (pictured at left) of being nothing more than a plagiarist and asserts that "Fairey simply filches artworks and hopes that no one notices."

This Fairey brouhaha is important for the hip hop community because one can gather great insight into how courts may approach and (perhaps?) alter existing copyright law as it relates to fair use. So stay close.

- Tonya M. Evans

Monday, April 27, 2009

Do DJ's need a union or a trade association?

As a former (not so former) DJ who paid his dues in Virginia Beach and Richmond, Virginia, I was often confronted with questions of copyright law, fair use, and so on. I did not have the answers. I did not know where to turn for answers. I'm sure my DJ colleagues were in the same boat. And who was around to advocate for us? The record companies have a voice in Washington. The artists, composers, producers, and writers all have a voice. The anti-hip-hop groups have a voice, but who's on the side of the DJ?

In 2008, the International DJ Trade Association was founded. It claims to be "an advocacy group for the DJ industry on a range of public policy and rights issues. The association is especially committed to improving the understanding, respect, and compensation for the role of the DJ in the entertainment industry and being a powerful, unified voice on behalf of DJ’s rights." That all sounds good to me.

We often hear of hip-hop containing four central areas of expression: emceeing, DJing, break dancing, and graffiti. It only seems logical that these four pillars have a voice in our government. The artists are well represented, but the DJs, many of whom work closely with artists are often left without representation. It seems that the only way a DJ might have a voice inside the political machine is if they are a member of another artistic association: ASCAP or AFM for example.

The IDJTA doesn't have much going on on its website, but it looks like there's a solid foundation for success. It will be interesting to see what legislative priorities the group will come out with. It will also be interesting to see if they engage in the sort of advocacy that, like it or not, maters in Washington, DC -- writing letters to Members of Congress, making phone calls, getting to know key legislative staffers, publishing op-eds and letters to the editor in response to stories that affect the DJ's craft.

It's great to bring together like-minded people and discuss policy, passion, and politics, but it's another thing to have an effective lobbying group that influences legislation, regulatory policy, and others. Will we see IDJTA reach out to ASCAP or AFM? Will we see something like the Davis-Bacon Act (prevailing wage requirements) passed for DJs? Will collective bargaining be next?

It seems that a union might actually run counter to much of what DJs do. The organization and rules of a union stand in stark contrast to the mashing, remixing, and recreating DJs engage in. Is the very idea of a union antithetical to the art of DJing? It's also unlikely that IDJTA will be able to recruit many DJs. I don't know too many DJs that can find the time to worry about legislative priorities, dues, or board meetings when they're trying their best to schedule new work, finish a mixtape, and potentially even work a day job.

The IDJTA plans to offer health plans and even legal representation when membership goals are met. That's a great idea considering most DJs do not work for corporations with health benefits. Spinning in smoke-filled clubs and house parties, being out all night, and the all too common alcoholic drink can take a toll on the body. As we've seen on this blog, legal issues abound in hip-hop and it would be powerful if DJs had a way to counter hegemonic copyright forces.

Well intentioned? Yes.

Politically powerful? No.

Something to look for in 2009? Absolutely.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Bar Exam

Artist: Ice Cube
Track: Fuck Tha Police
Album: "Straight Outta Compton", N.W.A.

Fuck the police comin straight from the underground
A young nigga got it bad cause I'm brown
And not the other color so police think
they have the authority to kill a minority
Fuck that shit, cause I ain't the one
for a punk motherfucker with a badge and a gun
to be beatin on, and thrown in jail
We can go toe to toe in the middle of a cell
Fuckin with me cause I'm a teenager
with a little bit of gold and a pager
Searchin my car, lookin for the product
Thinkin every nigga is sellin narcotics
You'd rather see, me in the pen
than me and Lorenzo rollin in a Benz-o
Beat a police out of shape
and when I'm finished, bring the yellow tape
To tape off the scene of the slaughter
Still gettin swoll off bread and water
I don't know if they fags or what
Search a nigga down, and grabbin his nuts
And on the other hand, without a gun they can't get none
But don't let it be a black and a white one
Cause they'll slam ya down to the street top
Black police showin out for the white cop
Ice Cube will swarm
on ANY motherfucker in a blue uniform
Just cause I'm from, the CPT
Punk police are afraid of me!
HUH, a young nigga on the warpath
And when I'm finished, it's gonna be a bloodbath
of cops, dyin in L.A.
Yo Dre, I got somethin to say

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hip Hop and Social Change

In March, Russell Simmons, godfather of DefJam records and hip hop mogul, led a group of protesters in New York City challenging the harsh New York drug laws known as the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Hundreds gathered outside Governor David Paterson's Manhattan office to call on the Governor and various state representatives to repeal the 1970s era drug laws enacted by then Governor Nelson Rockefeller.

The Rockefeller Drug Laws, now famous for harsh mandatory-minimum sentences and the hugely disproportionate impact it has on African American and Latino offenders, was severely criticized as illegitimate and profane by many attending the protest, including Simmons. The Rockefeller Drug Laws were enacted in 1973 and are composed of mandatory-minimum prison punishment based upon the type and amount of drug an offender is arrested with. Originally, the laws were intended to capture large drug kingpins, but evidence indicates now that most of the individuals imprisoned under these laws are low-level, non-violent offenders, many with no previous criminal history.

Simmons was quoted at the protest as saying:

"We are at the pivotal point where our hard work pays off, [b]ut we can't let up now. The fact is the Governor and State Senator both fought for the changes that the assembly has proposed to them. But both Governor Paterson and State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith need to hear our voices. They are being pushed by forces that are not interested in changing this horrible law which has devastated black and brown communities for two generations."

Through 2009, it is estimated that of the 12,000 individuals convicted on Rockefeller charges, 90% are African American or Latino and cost the state of New York $45,000 per person annually.

Simmons participation in this protest brings to mind the many and various ways that hip hop artists and leaders have taken political positions of importance in the past. Groups like Public Enemy, The Roots, N.W.A. and artists like KRS-One, Talib Kweli, Common and Mos Def have certainly impacted society with their lyrics and political sensibilities. Still, the question is often raised as to whether hip hop and hip hop artists can genuinely contribute to positive social change? Can hip hop and socially conscious artists truly affect social change and impact society in a positive way?

This very question was debated last weekend at the "Conceptualizing Substantive Justice" conference held at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law (April 17-18, 2009). A panel at that conference engaged in robust discussion in connection with hip hop and its curious relationship with criminal justice. Many conference attendees wondered aloud and debated whether hip hop has the potential to overcome its negative encumberances (violence, misogyny, homophobia, materialism, hypermasculinity) so that its important and genuine societal critique and plea for social change can be heard. Can hip hop still be heard?

- andré douglas pond cummings

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Citing Lack of Funds, Attorney for C-Murder Asks to Withdraw from Case

Ron Rakosky, the attorney representing Corey Miller (a.k.a. C-Murder) in the retrial of his overturned murder conviction, has filed a motion to withdraw from the case due to Miller’s failure to pay him for “hundreds of hours” of legal work completed during the past three years. “Funding is a serious problem in this case,” Rakosky told The Times-Picayune of New Orleans.

Subject to home confinement while awaiting a new trial, Miller claims he has been unable to earn a steady income as a result of his legal woes and is thus unable to pay Rakosky. The former No Limit Records recording artist has even established the Corey Miller Innocence Fund to pay for his legal defense. However, his attempt at securing funding may have gotten him into even more trouble: prosecutors are now claiming that Miller violated a gag order by using the Fund website as “a vehicle to espouse his innocence and at the same time attack the Jefferson Parish judicial system,” according to a separate motion filed on Monday.

Judge Hans Liljeberg, who will hear arguments on the motions next week, cautioned Miller that the loss of Rakosky’s services could be detrimental to his cause. “He's done a great job for you,” Liljeberg reportedly told Miller. “You're doing yourself a great disservice by not having him sit next to you.”

Miller is accused of shooting and killing 16-year old Steve Thomas during a brawl at a Harvey, La., nightclub on January 12, 2002. He was initially convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. However, that conviction was overturned due to the prosecutor’s failure to inform defense attorneys about the criminal background of witnesses who testified against Miller. The start date of the new trial has been pushed back repeatedly, and is now scheduled for August 3.

Attempting to Capitalize on Popularity of Second Life, DMC Creates "World"

Already considered a pioneer in music, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels has decided to explore uncharted territory once again. The legendary member of Run DMC announced that he will try his hand at alternate reality by launching DMC World, a virtual program that aims to provide fans a more direct means of communication with the artist.

DMC World (pictured at left), which can be accessed by downloading software from its website, is hosted by That website competes with the more popular Second Life to attract virtual “residents”, who use avatars to mask their true identities while establishing entirely new lives in these virtual realms. Although the virtual constructs in which the residents operate are fake, their interactions are very real. For instance, Second Life residents wishing to acquire virtual property must use currency in the form of the Linden Dollar, which is currently worth 1/266th of a U.S. dollar. Residents with private property can then invite other users to their homes to create sellable goods, party, or even engage in sexual intercourse.

Virtual worlds such as Second Life give ordinary people the chance to completely recreate their personas, which is very difficult to do in our physical world. However, they also provide opportunities for crime that are not so different from those seen in reality.

For instance, copyright infringement is an ongoing problem, as virtual vendors frequently find that the design of their virtual goods has been copied and sold for profit in both the virtual and real world. One example involved the products of Kevin Alderman, who created the first virtual sex bed allowing for avatar intercourse through the use of built-in animations. When Alderman noticed exact copies of his product being sold in Second Life by Thomas Simon (operating under the virtual sobriquet Rase Kenzo), Alderman sued for copyright infringement in New York Federal District Court. Simon ultimately agreed to pay Alderman $525 as restitution for the profits he made from the copying and distribution of Alderman’s product and destroy all remaining unauthorized copies of the product in his possession. Simon also agreed to inform Alderman of any alternative accounts he used or plans to use on Second Life and show Alderman his transactional records on PayPal.

There is also growing concern over other “real life” crimes that have been repeatedly documented in the virtual worlds. Aside from copyright infringement, sexual harassment is perhaps the most prevalent offense perpetrated by users. However, money laundering by criminals and terrorists is also a concern, as is identity theft, tax evasion, and illegal gambling. Furthermore, jurisdiction is a particularly sticky issue when parties to an action emanating from the virtual world are actually residents of different countries. And while virtual residents are usually required to consent to the Terms of Service and Community Standards establishing by their respective hosts, these end user licensing agreements often fail to sufficiently regulate the actions of residents and lack the deterrent quality of real life laws and penalties.

A seasoned veteran of the rap game, DMC overcame numerous obstacles to earn his place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He may need to draw on every bit of his experience to guide him through the potential legal minefield that is virtual reality.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Candy Girls Are Not Made of Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

Straight ignorance – this is the thought that runs through my mind as I sit down to watch the new E! Network series, Candy Girls. After the barrage of obscenities, including the offensive use of the “N” word, I feel like I have just wasted a half hour of my life that I will never get back. The imagery is destructive and counter-productive to the self-esteem of young girls who aspire to live the celebrity lifestyle. It’s the reality show gone wrong – again, this time remixed to fit the hip hop lifestyle.

What is this insatiable fascination that we have with reality shows? Reality shows create a bonanza for television networks as they are much cheaper to produce than sitcoms or other staged programs. However, the cost of exploitation may far outweigh any savings. Broadcasting images which are sexist and/or racist are not worth the stain on our moral fiber. Hip hop has enough negative images that are projected through the media. We do not need yet another reminder of the stereotypes that mischaracterize the true spirit and meaning of hip hop.

Candy Girls attempts to glamorize the video vixen. The “plot” features attractive young women who live together in a house in between jetting off to jobs where they star in music videos alongside some of today’s biggest acts. These “models” work for an untraditional modeling agency run by an over-the-top agent who acts more like a jealous girlfriend rather than a boss. The setting reminds me of a brothel. Danielle, the agency owner, takes on the role of the older madam who makes sure that the girls are ready for their johns while holding onto the purse strings. Danielle is an agent, yet she gets personally involved in her employees’ personal life. Danielle resembles the other women, with the exception of one cast member, in that she is a woman of color who is working to support herself while living to meet the expectation of others. Yet Danielle sells her girls out to the highest bidder.

Candy Girl’s clients include rap and R & B superstars who book the agency’s models to fill the set of their videos. The “girls” also act as eye candy for some of Hollywood’s hottest parties and venue openings, hence the title “Candy Girls.” With each video and each party we begin to see the ugly side of the entertainment business from the viewpoint of under-represented women clawing their way to the top of a short-lived career. The earning potential of these women is limited in that they will only book jobs if they fit the stereotypical demographic for what the artist or record company is looking for – the Latina girl, the biracial girl, the white girl with blond hair, the black girl with long hair and a large derriere. If they do not follow directions, they are threatened to be replaced by the next “it” girl lining up to take their place.

The working conditions on the set or at the club often include some form of sexual exploitation and harassment. The women are directed to wear skimpy and seductive outfits, which become their uniforms, while acting in a suggestive manner. At times they are approached by the celebrity client while being groped and served alcoholic beverages. All of this happens while the cameras roll, filming every indiscretion. Several episodes feature these young women becoming romantically involved with others in the music or sports industry while living under the constant accusation of being a groupie.

In the cut-throat entertainment industry, these women try to weather the storm of the sexual innuendos and allegations. A couple of the women are single mothers who suffer under their vulnerability as they try to parent and live the party lifestyle. Absent the fame and fortune, these women are struggling to make a name for themselves with their looks. Some crack under the pressure of the rumors of their sexual mishaps. They take pride in serving as the lead model rather than an extra in a rap music video, all the while ignoring their true potential to be the lead in the boardroom or the courtroom. While sex sells, the time has come for us to let the E! Network know that we cannot afford what it is selling. Microphone check 1-2, 1-2…is this thing on?

- Kamille Wolff

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Flesh-N-Bone still thugin'...

Bone Thugs-n-Harmony significantly redefined hip-hop, blazing (figuratively and literally) the way for Midwest rappers to have success. Without Bone Thugs, we might never have seen the increase in rappers from Missouri, Illinois, and elsewhere up and down the Midwest.

Flesh-n-Bone had an unfortunate run in with California law enforcement on April 2, 2009 in Santa Clarita. As part of his parole, his house is subject to random searches. His home was searched and marijuana was found along with a firearm. He was held on $135,000 bail and later plead not guilty in Superior Court on April 6, 2009.

For a more detailed story, check out the the Santa Clarita Signal.

This arrest came less than a year after Flesh was released from prison (in July 2008) after serving a seven and a half year sentence for assault with a deadly weapon (AK-47) and a probation violation.

Guns and hip hop seem all too common. Who can forget Diddy and Shyne? What of DMX or 50 Cent? Gun violence and illegal gun possession is a serious problem, not only in the hip hop community but across the country. Bone Thugs released five songs that specifically address gun violence ("Shots To Tha Double Glock," "2 Glocks," "9mm," "Pump Pump," and "Shoot 'Em Up"). Unfortunately these songs reinforce stereotypes about the hip hop community. But more reinforcing, is the run ins with the law that hip hop artists face. At what point do hip hop artists harm their community? I do not suggest that hip hop artists do not often come from dangerous neighborhoods or are often threatened with violence and in need of protection, but at some point the need for personal protection becomes almost as militant and destructive as the violence such protection hopes to prevent.

Oddly, Flesh's wife is a Chicago Police Officer, currently on leave from the Chicago Police Department. Flesh alleges that the gun is hers. The gun was apparently kept in a locked box in a locked closet and was registered.

The juxtaposition of a hip hop artists who raps specifically about breaking drug, gun, and RICO laws being married to a member of the law enforcement community is indeed interesting. How are we to understand this juxtaposition and where does it take us? Does it challenge notions of hip hop authenticity? Open up discursive space? Not matter at all? As of yet, Isabel Flores, Flesh's wife nor the Chicago Police Department have made any comment.

As to the marijuana, Shepard Kopp (Flesh's lawyer) claims that Flesh has a medical marijuana card. “He’s got a card for that. It’s not hard to get one of those,” said Kopp.

Shepard Kopp is also an interesting character and adds another important facet to the story. Attorney Kopp works for the Law Offices of Geragos & Geragos, home of the famous criminal defense attorney, Mark Geragos. Geragos has defended Michael Jackson, Scott Peterson, and currently represents Chris Brown in the Rihanna case. It appears that Flesh is taking his criminal problems seriously, hiring a criminal law firm linked to so many media-rich cases. What role do famous attorneys have in the criminal justice system? How do we evaluate the importance of media savvy in a case? Are lawyers become public relations gurus more than legal experts?

I'm sure there will be more information to come, but Flesh's unfortunate predicament should allow us some time to reflect on gun violence, medical marijuana, and if nothing else, celebrity attorneys.

I'm hoping Flesh-n-Bone comes out of these circumstances unscathed, but only time will tell. Bone Thugs-n-Harmony have been an important presence in the hip hop community and although they haven't seen the success they once knew, they still have a distinctive style and commanding musical presence.

-- Nick J. Sciullo

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Bar Exam

Artist: I Self Devine
Track: Untitled
Album: Self Destruction

In my younger days the word was forbidden
Connected to stereotypes and bad images
Lazy and crazy, maybe foot shuffling
Ignorant lower class nigga that’s hustling
In first grade I was expelled off an incident
Involving the ‘n’ word and some white students
We could have sued but we chose different
I moved to another district, I was a misfit
And I learned the bomb on site
I felt it wasn’t right, so on the daily I would fight
These days old folks say that I’m backwards
To justify the ownership of such a bad word
I used to tell them, ‘You don’t understand the usage’
We played country club and made it exclusive
Black to black or people of color,
But the more we say it, the more they wanna play it
Lower class white cats think they got the right
Cause we shoulder to shoulder inside the urban plight
Don’t say nizzle or nilly when you’re near me
This ain’t the cool fashion
I’m speakin, it’s with passion
N-I-G-G to tha A, used on the block like every day
Word play sprinkled in the things we say
With no de-lay like everything is okay,
It’s getting twisted, the game is losing
All these rules so I think I won’t use it
White cats getting hurt in the process,
They call me racist, it’s just a big mess

Friday, April 17, 2009

Has Burger King Gone Too Far with Spongebob "Square Butts" Commercial?

“The King”, Burger King’s mascot, likes square butts and definitely showed it in Burger King’s most recent controversial commercial. The commercial features The King dancing to a play-off of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”

The commercial starts off with The King saying “I like square butts and I cannot lie.” Throughout the commercial women shake their rectangular shaped butts (even though the commercial refers to the shape as square), and The King walks around the video set just as Sir Mix-A-Lot did in the original video back in 1992. At the end of the commercial, Sir Mix-A-Lot says, “Booty is Booty,” and then you finally hear a 3 second blurb about the actual Burger King promotion. The commercial first aired during the 2009 Men’s Basketball NCAA Tournament, and has brought about much controversy since the original airing.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has initiated a campaign to get Burger King to pull the commercial. Commercial-Free’s Director Dr. Susan Linn said, “It’s bad enough when companies use a beloved media character like SpongeBob to promote junk food to children, but it’s utterly reprehensible when that character simultaneously promotes objectified, sexualized images of women.”

Burger King has since released a statement addressing the commercial. "The 99-cent BK Kids Meal is a value-based offer aimed at adults and requires an adult BK Value Meal purchase. This value offering enables the entire family to enjoy an affordable quality meal. As with all Burger King adult advertising campaigns, the SpongeBob commercial featuring Sir Mix-A-Lot's famous song airs only during shows targeting adult audiences, and with the King and a popular '90s rapper as the headliners, is meant to appeal to the adults who take their families to Burger King restaurants for good food and entertainment. This commercial is intended to show that even adults can have fun, laugh and be silly with entertainment genres -- such as rap and pop culture icons -- that have become part of everyday life. We also developed a second, completely different SpongeBob advertising campaign for kids, which is currently airing on kid-targeted programming."

The one thing for certain is that Burger King is a little late with creating commercials that target the adult hip hop community. McDonald’s has produces several “hip hop commercials targeted for adults.” The two that come to mind are the “McNuggets R&B Song” and “Happy Meal Cha Cha Slide” commercials. The “McNuggets R&B Song” has an R&B singing about why his female friend should share her McNuggets with him. The “Happy Meal Cha Cha Slide” commercial has a kid dancing to the Cha Cha Slide in his house while coming to the dinner table to join his family.

However, the big difference between McDonald’s and Burger King’s “hip hop commercials targeted for adults” is that Mickey D’s has taken the safe road with creating family friendly commercials. On the other hand, BK called upon Sir Mix-A-Lot most notable hit song “Baby Got Back” to help advertise their latest promotion.

So the question for you is “Has Burger King Gone Too Far?’ You be the judge. Check out the Burger King Spongebob Square Butts commercial and post your comments. If the 30 second version didn’t convince to head over to BK and get a 99 cent Happy Meal with your Value Meal purchase, give the 2:23 extended version a chance!

- Alvin C. Hathaway Jr.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Financial Market Meltdown and Hip Hop: The Death of Bling?

Is the devastating financial market crisis impacting hip hop? Bryan Leach, vice president of urban music at RCA Records says yes. Leach claims that hip hop artists are changing up both their lyrics and their “bling” to accommodate the crisis and the attendant impact the meltdown is having on fans. He attributes the less gaudy fashion of late and recent lyrical content being less materialistic to the economic downturn and a recognition by artists of slipping record sales.

“Every major label has been laying people off,” Leach notes. “This is not about just popping bottles and buying jewelry. Everyone’s got to be responsible and mature.” Furtheri evidencing what could be a trend toward maturity, Amy Andrieux, a senior editor at The Source magazine recently mentioned "We just came out of the 'bling era,' where everything was about wealth and what you could attain, and I'm starting to see artists being more socially conscious."

Perhaps the game IS being affected by the market crisis. A Nielsen report cited by CNN shows Hip Hop/Rap sales declined by nearly 20 percent in 2008, while Rock sales dropped by only 6.5 percent. According to the Neilsen report, only Classical, Latin and Country music fell at a greater percentage than hip hop.

Author and BET correspondent Touré has observed “I imagine you will see more rappers doing some less-gaudy things just because it would be out of step with the audience,” Hip hop artists have to recognize how audacious it would appear if the “bling” continued to dominate in this current economic culture. Touré suggests “The audience is struggling and striving, and then you're like, ‘Look at my four diamond iced-out chains.’”

That said, declining record sales cannot be attributed solely to the economic crisis. As indicated in an earlier post, album sales have been dropping precipitously over the past few years as the record industry struggles to keep up with the technological advances in the music industry and the many new ways that intellectual property is challenged by creative hip hop artists. New ways to reach the public are becoming common place (as indicated here) and the record industry is not keeping pace with the way its fan base is constantly changing its preferred consumption of music.

Nothing seems to indicate that the audience appetite for new, good and creative music is waning. What is changing rapidly are the choices the public has to consume its music.

-- andré douglas pond cummings

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Is the NBA Dress Policy a Pretext for Racial Discrimination?

The NBA has celebrated the very lifestyle it now seeks to eradicate. For years the NBA has done everything it can to benefit from a relationship with hip hop. It hired British comedian Sasha Cohen (aka Ali G) to promote the NBA in television commercials. In the commercials Cohen is dressed in a track suit accessorized by a bulky chain while wearing a skull cap and wrap-around sunglasses. His attire expresses the very same street or hip hop culture that the NBA now prohibits.

In addition, the NBA has licensed a video game called “NBA Ballers” which pitches itself as the exclusive one-on-one basketball video game highlighting the bling bling lifestyle of NBA superstars. In the game, players take on the identity of actual NBA stars and accumulate “mansions, cars, jewelry, women – if you’ve spotted it on MTV cribs, you’re going to see it here.” And finally, a Nike advertisement on featured Allen Iverson alongside 50 Cent. These types of advertisements and video games show the mutually reinforcing connections between sports and hip hop.

In October of 2005, the NBA implemented a new dress code for players. The code, which specifies appropriate league-business dress styles for players, requires players to wear “business casual attire whenever they are engaged in team or league business," meaning a long or short sleeved dress shirt (collared or turtle neck) and/or a sweater; dress slacks, khakis or dress jeans; and appropriate shoes and socks, not including sneakers, sandals, flip flops or work boots. The code also directly prohibits players from wearing certain types of clothing, particularly clothing that society links to hip-hop culture, which has been negatively stereotyped and racialized as black. Specifically, the code prohibits the wearing of sleeveless shirts, shorts, t-shirts, jerseys, sports apparel, chains, pendants, medallions, sunglasses while indoors, and headphones and headgear of any kind while a player is placed on the bench, seated in the stands at a game or making an appearance for media interviews or a team or league event. There are three exceptions to this policy. The first exception is stricter than the usual policy and requires players who are in attendance at games but not in uniform to wear a sports coat, dress shoes or boots and socks while seated on the bench or in the stands. The second exception allows players to wear either business casual attire or neat warm-up suits that are issued by their teams as they are leaving the basketball arena. The third and final exception permits players to wear attire that is not business casual at special events or player appearances where other attire would be appropriate, such as at basketball clinics.

The announcement of these rules sparked a number of claims from players, journalists and commentators that these policies are motivated by racial stereotypes. Commentators and players alike argued that the rules are targeted at negative media-driven hip hop images of young black men, who make up the vast majority of the league. Stephen Jackson said “As far as chains, I definitely feel that’s a racial statement. Almost 100% of the guys in the league who are young men and black wear big chains. So, I definitely don’t agree with that. The new ban on chains worn over clothing is a racist statement from the league. Paul Pierce proclaimed “when I saw the part about chains, hip hop and throwback jerseys, I think that’s part of our culture. The NBA is young black males. Phil Jackson made the following comment, which essentially displays the way in which young black men, hip hop and criminality have become so linked in the minds of the American public: “The players have been dressing in prison garb the last five or six years. All the stuff that goes on, its like gangster, thuggery stuff." Similarly, black columnist Jason Whitlock declared, “Too many young black professional athletes have too closely aligned themselves with the hip hop culture, which in reality is nothing more than prison culture.” Jason Richardson wants to keep wearing his gold chains and believes the dress code take aim at black players in the league. He said, "they want to sway away from the hip hop generation. You think of hip hop right now and think of things that happen like gangs having shootouts in front of radio stations. One thing to me that was kind of racist was that you can’t wear chains outside your clothing."

One commentator said, "Although a couple of foreign-born players fall under this policy and maybe a few white guys such as Jason Williams, this is all pointing toward blacks. NBA Commisioner David Stern had to do something when the thuggish image had taken over the sport and things had gotten out of control." Another commentator claimed that a reading of the rules made clear that the NBA does not want hip hop culture, including its clothes, to be part of the NBA image. The NBA helped launch the trend of baggy jerseys and chunky gold chains adopted by teenagers around the world. But now the NBA is attempting to take the bling out of basketball. Some players and commentators have denounced the dress code as racist for targeting the hip hop look adopted by many of the NBA’s young black players. Its purposes, critics claim, is to make a predominantly black league more palatable to a predominately white audience. Allen Iverson says, "they are targeting my generation, the hip hop generation." The truth remains that while the majority of the NBA players are black, the majority of the coachers and owners are white. If nothing else, the dress code reinforces the fact that the so-called hip hop generation is seen as second class citizens when they dress a certain way. Wrote Whitlock, "Race is not the determining factor when it comes to having a good or bad attitude; culture is. And the hip hop culture is all about attitude, anger, sticking it to the man, selfishness and rebelliousness. Black players didn’t behave this way until this hip hop gangsta business began. Hip hop athletes are being rejected because they are not good for business."

The fact is that race is socially constructed. It is formed through human interactions and commonly held notions of what it means to belong to a certain racial group. In other words, in our society, markers other than just one’s skin color, such as clothing and hairstyle, play a role in defining a person’s race. When it comes to discrimination, how one performs his or her racial identity matters almost as much as how one looks. The fact is that race has a greater meaning than skin color or tone; it is also about performance, how one displays his racial identity. The problem for those who want to impose these rules to the players in the NBA is not that the players have black skin, not that they are “black” as the term is physically defined, but rather that they are performing their identities in a way that comports with stereotypes accorded generally to blacks. In a league that is eighty percent black, the NBA’s response to the infiltration of hip hop culture into the league has a negative effect on the employability of the black male athlete.

- D. Aaron Lacy

(Photo by Gary Dineen/Getty Images)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Facing Murder Retrial, C-Murder Turns to Fans, Friends for Legal Expenses

With the retrial of his 2003 murder conviction scheduled to begin in exactly one week, Corey Miller, a.k.a. C-Murder, is taking an unusual approach to securing a proper legal defense.

The former No Limit Records recording artist has established the Corey Miller Innocence Fund, which asks family, friends and fans to donate $1,000 apiece to help underwrite his legal battle. Miller, the brother of hip hop mogul Percy Miller (a.k.a. Master P), has been on 24-hour home confinement while awaiting his retrial, a circumstance which he claims has rendered him unable to pay his legal fees.

Miller’s legal troubles stem from a 2002 incident at a nightclub in Harvey, Louisiana, in which he allegedly killed 16-year-old Steve Thomas with a single gunshot to the chest following an argument. In September 2003, Miller was convicted of second-degree murder and given a mandatory life sentence. However, just six months later, the judge in the case overturned the conviction and ordered a retrial, citing the prosecutor’s failure to inform Miller’s attorneys about the criminal background of witnesses who testified against Miller. Although an appeals court reversed the decision, the Louisiana Supreme Court reinstated the lower court’s ruling, ruling that the trial judge’s decision to grant a new trial “reflects a painstaking review of the evidence presented at trial and in the course of 13 post-conviction hearings, during which (she) became convinced that one of the state’s principal witnesses was ‘someone who is accustomed to lying.’”

Check back for more on the Corey Miller murder retrial in coming weeks.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Who Would Be Your First Five Selections for a Hip Hop Hall of Fame?

With its induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this week, Run DMC joined Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five as the only hip hop groups to earn the distinction. The honor led many to call for the creation of a Hip Hop Hall of Fame to better recognize leading contributors to the genre. It also led us to ask ourselves: If a Hip Hop Hall of Fame were created today, who would be our first five inductees? contributors andré douglas pond cummings, Nick J. Sciullo and Brian Welch list their nominees.

andré douglas pond cummings: The true pioneers in hip hop that should be recognized as the original creators of the movement are DJs Afrika Bambaatta and DJ Kool Herc. While I recognize the important contributions of Run DMC in taking hip hop nationwide and mainstream, if I were to select a top five that deserved induction into a Hall of Fame for making an influential and continuing contribution to the genre, I would have to select:

1) Chuck D and Public Enemy: In my view, Public Enemy seized the microphone in the late 1980s and blindsided America with political messages that resonated with urban youth and penetrated suburbia. "Fight the Power," "Don't Believe the Hype," "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" and "911 is a Joke" served up a genuine critique of U.S. politics that caused fear in the hearts of the traditional majority.

2) Tupac Shakur: Lyrically brilliant, confoundingly contradictory and ultimately fearless, Tupac Shakur became the first hip hop magnate. Movie star, hip hop artist and superstar. Mere mention of "Dear Mama," "All Eyes on Me" and California Love" amongst dozens of others immediately sets heads to nodding. He famously said "I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world."

3) KRS One and Boogie Down Productions: KRS One foresaw and believed that he could be a teacher to the masses. His messages following the death of Scott LaRock were ones designed to uplift the hip hop nation. "Edutainment" released in 1991 was a tour de force, including the unforgettable "Love's Gonna Getcha."

4) Ice Cube, Eazy E, Dr. Dre and N.W.A: When N.W.A. burst upon the scene in the late 1980s, the group was furiously criticized for promoting the "gangsta" lifestyle and image. While much of what N.W.A. rapped about was violent and misogynistic, the counter culture messages that described life in American ghettos was real and stark. "F**k the Police," "100 Miles and Runnin'," "Gangsta Gangsta" and "Straight Outta Compton" stunned America and caused the FBI and Tipper Gore to take

5) Ice-T: Perhaps the originator of "gangsta rap," Ice-T continued the tradition of narrative storytelling through his rhymes. "6 in the Morning" served notice and "Cop Killer" drew national outrage. Today, Ice-T playing a police officer on "Law and Order: SVU" raises the interesting question as to whether commodification of the genre impacts the counter culture messages that seemed so revolutionary twenty years ago.

Nick J. Sciullo: My list focuses on the underdogs as opposed to the obvious (Biggie, Common, KRS-One, Tupac, etc.) In no particular order and with some explanation:

1) Black Thought – The Roots front man has been a loud socially conscious presence for years. The fact that he does all this over a full musical ensemble is all that much more impressive.

2) Kool G Rap – Although often forgotten in discussions of 80’s hip hop and largely ignored in the gangsta rap discourse, Kool G Rap has been spittin’ fire for years. He put hardcore hip-hop on the map. For a more modern look at this artist, check out The Giancana Story.

3) Immortal Technique – If you didn’t think hard hip-hop and socially conscious, message-centered hip hop could coexist, then you haven’t listened to Immortal Technique. His delivery and lyrics combine to form a compelling political action.

4) Lord Have Mercy – This former member of Busta Rhymes' Flipmode squad has a delivery that is nothing but unique. He combines the power of DMX with the freestyle feel of Wu-Tang Clan. He’s made memorable appearances on Busta Rhymes tracks, especially on Busta’s first album The Coming, on Flipmode Squad’s The Imperial, and also on MOP’s Warriorz. If you haven’t listened, you should.

5) Wyclef Jean – I’m a Wyclef fan, but I don’t choose him because I’m a fan. Wyclef revolutionized hip-hop by including international rhythms in his music. He’s worked with international artists like Muzion, Celia Cruz, and Aadesh Shrivastava. He brought attention to the plight of Haiti and Haitian-Americans and delivered memorable songs like Gone ‘Til November, Slow Down, President, and Next Generation.

Brian Welch: In the interest of geographic diversity, and with a disclaimer of my relative youth (I wasn’t alive when Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five released “The Message”), I present my five nominees:

1) Run DMC: Okay, so their spot in the Hall is a given. But who brought hip hop to the fore more fully than DJ Run, DMC, and the late JamMaster Jay? I challenge you to find someone, anyone, who hasn’t heard of the trio from Hollis, Queens.

2) Ice Cube: In a toss up between Cube and Dre, I choose O’Shea. Sure, no album was more eye-opening than The Chronic, but the former N.W.A. catalyst turned breakout star wins on longevity. Mr. Jackson owned the 1990s with legendary albums (The Predator, Lethal Injection) and hit movies (Boyz n the Hood, Friday).

3) Jay-Z: Quick, name your favorite Jay-Z tracks. If you’re still counting five minutes from now, you’re not alone. His catalog is ridiculous. His business acumen is unsurpassed in the music industry. What other rapper could announce a joint partnership with perfume manufacturer Elizabeth Arden and not lose a drop of credibility?

4) The Roots: Can I offer an opinion? Black Thought is the best rapper alive. Listen to his angst and paranoia on the Bush-era magnum opus “Game Theory”. Listen to him combine seething criticism and unbridled optimism on the lost-on-some “Rising Down”. And is there a better drummer than ?uestlove? No group puts together more complete albums, from the first track to the last.

5) OutKast: I’ll admit, their last two albums were awful. But damn, were their first four albums not the sickest syntheses of sounds you’ve ever heard? They put Atlanta, and the entire South, on the hip hop map.

Who would be your first five?

The Bar Exam

Artist: Immortal Technique
Track: Harlem Streets
Album: Revolutionary, Vol. 2...

Yeah... Harlem streets stay flooded in white powder
Like those mother fuckers runnin' away from the twin towers
Gun shots rock the earth like a meteor shower
Bowling For Columbine, fear, giving the media power
Innocence devoured like a chicken spot snack box
Government cocaine cooked into ghetto crack rocks
Corrupt cops false testimony at your arraignment
Check to check, constant struggle to make the payments
Working your whole life wondering where the day went
The subway stays packed like a multi-cultural slave ship
It's rush hour, 2:30 to 8, non stoppin'
And people coming home after corporate share croppin'
And fuck flossin', mothers are trying to feed children
But gentrification is kicking them out of their building
A generation of babies born without health care
Families homeless, thrown the fuck off of the welfare

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Great Debate: Borrowing or Infringement … That is the Question!

Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution empowers Congress “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” (emphasis added). And so it seems that the intention of the founding fathers was to use the means of exclusive rights to achieve the ends of promoting the progress of the “useful arts,” which is now defined far more broadly than the common definition of “writings.”

However, existing copyright laws provide exclusive rights that endure for the life of a creator of an original literary or artistic work and 70 years after the creator’s death. I posit that such an extension of copyright protection and the attendant requirements for licensing and permissions may seriously and negatively impact an individual creator’s ability to borrow from the wealth of existing creative works to create something new and transformative, particularly in the case of a collaborative medium like music.

An example of this hypothesis may best be illustrated by the real and burgeoning impact intellectual property laws have had on hip hop music, the producers of which regularly use “sampling” (use of a recording of a sound, or a portion of the previously existing sound recording), “looping” (repeating a sample over and over again to form a new rhythm) and “mashing” (combining the music of one song with the lyrics of another) as artistic tools to create a novel tapestry of music from existing bits of copyrighted works.

From the perspective of the Copyright Act, the sampling artist is expected to license the right to use the copyrighted work and pay licensing fees. But the nature of music in general (hip-hop in particular) as collaborative on the one hand, and the exclusive rights in a copyright holder to, among other things, copy and prepare derivative works from the original on the other, may place artistic freedom at odds with intellectual property laws.

Historically the law always seems to lag far behind technology and the area of copyright law is the poster child for this reality. So what do you think? Should hip hop and other collaborative art forms bow down to the existing exclusive intellectual property regime? Or should intellectual property laws affecting music evolve to incorporate a collaborative framework that allows for broader fair use exceptions in this arena? Which best serves the constitutional call to promote “useful arts” and further enrich the public benefit?

Tonya M. Evans, Assistant Professor of Law, Widener University School of Law

Author, Copyright Companion for Writers

(Image by Michael Cramer)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Hip-Hop Artists Use Twitter to Stay Fresh in Fans' Eyes

New Day 26 album is crazy yall get ready!!!! Check it out
6:10 PM Apr 6th from web
Ptwitty question of the day!!! Who was or is your HER0 when you were growing up as a kid????
3:28 PM Apr 6th from TwitterBerry
Just got finished performing da BENJAMINS on 106 and park with the LOX! I miss those guys ! Jada album comes out tomorrow! Go get!
3:16 PM Apr 6th from TwitterBerry
The time has come for you to take charge of your life!!! You are in control of your destiny! BE GREAT!!! No excuses! Let's go!!!
11:07 AM Apr 6th from TwitterBerry
** (Messages from Diddy a/k/a PTwitty Twitter Account)**

If you haven’t heard, Twitter is the new online addiction, and PTwitty has clearly made use of the service in a big way. Above are some posts from Diddy’s Twitter page who now refers to himself online as PTwitty. There could not have been a better series of posts to serve as examples for the ways in which hip hop artists can use Twitter to engage their current fan base and attract new fans. The first post above is Diddy announcing his group, Day 26 new album (#1 Promote Your Product). The next post is Diddy posing a question to his 408,965 followers, as of 10:26 PM Apr 6th (#2 Engage Your Fans). The third post is Diddy announcing a performance he has just completed (#3 Let Fans Inside Your Life). The final post is Diddy providing some words of encouragement to his fans (#4 Words of Wisdom).

Twitter is a social networking service that allows its users to send and read other user’ updates a/k/a “tweets.” Tweets are text based post of up to 140 characters in length that are posted on your page and sent to all of the users that have signed up to follow your updates. Users can designate their profiles as either public or private. Public profiles are viewable by all Twitter users and the general public. Twitter updates can be sent and viewed from a cell phone in a number of different ways with the most common method as SMS text messages. There are two normal reactions from people after they have heard about Twitter or right after they have signed up. One common phrase is, “that is all to it (Twitter).” The second common comment about Twitter is “I don’t get what this Twitter thing is all about.” Those reactions don’t last long and in a short matter of time those new users catch on to the hype and are hooked to arguably the most exciting social networking site around.

In just a little over 3 years of existence, Twitter has climbed to the #3 social networking site position with plans of competing against the big two, Facebook and Myspace.

A major question for today’s hip-hop artists is how do you stay current with your fan base? Well, I believe Twitter provides part of the answer for hip-hop artists searching for an answer to that question. And here is why!

First, Twitter’s simplicity and manageability allows the actual artist to control the online interaction with their “followers” / ”fans” / ”customers,” whatever you’d like to call them. Talib Kweli recently spoke at the West Virginia University College of Law for a symposium titled “Street Knowledge: Examining the Influence of Hip-Hop on Law and Culture.” In the car ride to WVU, in the waiting room before he spoke and right after his keynote speech, Talib was tweeting to his over 34,000 followers. He let them know a few times that he was in West Virginia speaking to a bunch of lawyers.

This was all possible because Twitter can easily be synced up and operated from a cell phone. That feature is a major benefit of Twitter over Myspace and Facebook, where celebrity users receive so much traffic on their pages that they don’t have the time to maintain the pages. Due to that fact, most of the maintenance of celebrity Myspace and Facebook pages are done by their staff. On the other hand, the vast majority of celebrities Twitter pages are managed by themselves.

Twitter also allows artist fans to step inside the artist everyday life. TJ Chapman, CEO of TJsDJs & Twitter machine, uses Twitter to keep his fan base in the loop of his every move. It is very common for TJ to send out 15-20 tweets a day with most of the tweets letting users know about what he is currently doing, or where he is at. This kind of personal interaction with Hip Hop artist and music business executives is pretty much impossible to find anywhere else except Twitter.

Twitter recently made mainstream news when NBA Milwaukee Bucks forward Charlie Villanueva sent a tweet from his cell phone at halftime of a critical game against the Boston Celtics. At halftime of that game Charlie Villanueva or CV31 (Villanueva’s Twitter screenname) posted the following message, "In da locker room, snuck to post my twitt. We're playing the Celtics, tie ball game at da half. Coach wants more toughness. I gotta step up." The motivating part of the story is CV31 didn’t disappoint his fans and finished with a team high of 19 points and more importantly a win.

The bad part of the story is that CV31 was scolded by the Buck’s head coach Scott Skiles for tweeting during the game. Skiles said, “We made a point to Charlie and the team that it's nothing we ever want to happen again," Skiles said after practice Tuesday. "You know, [we] don't want to blow it out of proportion. But anything that gives the impression that we're not serious and focused at all times is not the correct way we want to go about our business."

While Scott Skiles wants his players focused and serious, possibly the biggest name in the combined NBA and Hip-Hop World, Shaquille O’Neal, is having a great time with Twitter before his games, after his games, and any other time he can find a free second. Shaq is definitely a Twitterholic and has sent over 1,000 tweets to date. Shaq has used Twitter to post comments about the NBA, upcoming games, what he is currently doing, or any random thought that comes to his mind. In addition to the normal Twitter usage, Shaq has occasionally used the site to give away tickets to fans.

When it is all said and done, I believe Twitter will be the fastest way to get the latest information on your favorite artist. Twitter will not only serve as an information source, but as an essential marketing tool for celebrities, artists, and companies as they try to deliver what their followers” / ”fans” / ”customers” want. Maintaining a fresh perception in fan’s eyes is important for any genres’ artists, but it is extremely important for hip hop artists because of their short career span. Providing updates is not the only way hip hop artist can keep their fans posted, however it can be a vital part of their fan interaction. It could be the difference between being able to release a second or third single from an album or falling short because of lack of fan support.

- Alvin C. Hathaway Jr.
Follow @AlvinJr. on Twitter

Monday, April 6, 2009

Coolio's drug possession charge and the cultural politics of memory

Coolio made a name for himself in 1995 when he released Gangsta's Paradise (featuring L.V.), released on an album of the same name and on the Dangerous Minds soundtrack. Although his success was largely confined to this one song, Coolio continued to produce music through the 90s and early 2000s. He also made a largely unsuccessful transition to acting (bonus points if you can name 3 Coolio movies and don't pick the easy one, Leprauchan: In the Hood).

On April 3, he pleased not guilty to felony drug charges stemming from an arrest at Los Angeles International Airport. Coolio arrived late with his typically rambunctious hair style and after the judge finished berating him for his tardiness, cautioned Coolio to be on time for his April 20 court date.

Coolio faces felony cocaine position charges and two misdemeanors, battery and position of drug paraphernalia. He faces up to three years in prison.

What affect do incidents like this that would seem to uphold stereotypes all too often used to malign hip hop have on hip hop music and perceptions? No one's perfect, of course, and I'm sure that Coolio does not speak for or represent the entirety of the hip-hop community. But, one must wonder how the cycle of stereotyping is furthered every time a hip-hop artist is arrested or releases a misogynistic song. Is not this fuel for the fires of critics? Will not critics point to Coolio's incident (insert DMX, Lil' Wayne, or whomever here) and say, "We're right, hip-hop is about drug users talking about using drugs and encouraging our youth to use drugs."

One of the dangers for maligned groups or disempowered communities is that every mistake, poor judgement, silly action, dangerous deed, becomes representative of the entire community in the popular imagination. The politics of memory are very powerful and as each individual of a supposed group acts so is that group changed in the imagination. Unfortunately, it is often easier to remember the bad.

When asked about German history, people inevitable talk of the Holocaust and not of Richard Wagner (yes, I am aware that he wrote the anti-Semitic Judaism in Music and these views should not be condoned) operas or the remarkable Hans Fallada's Kleinner Mann, Was Nun? (Little Man, What Now?), or even Formula One seven-time champion Michael Shumacher. It is vitally important to any group's political practice to understand and work with memory. We must not overlook the bad, in fact we must engage it and criticize it intently. Problems arise when we assume the bad is the real and before we know it we become locked in a normative politics of memory that favors only one moder of remembering.

Of course we must remember the good with the bad, but hip-hop endangers itself when it loses control of memory's politics. Let us not deny the drug charges, misogyny, and other ills that happen in hip-hop (and in other communities). We must however shape remembering to better fit our vision of where hip-hop's progressive politics can take us. There are artists doing good out in the community, founding non-profits, building schools, creating after school programs, and helping families in need.

It may be argued that hip-hop attempts to publicize these actions, but that a non-hip-hop media chooses not to run these stories. Bad news sells better. Those arguments are probably true, but to stop fighting and promoting the benefits of hip-hop is to disavow a relationship with hip-hop's imagine.

What then are we to do when hip-hop artists go astray? Is there a politics of memory that we can overcome and shape to fit a progressive politics of hip-hop? Hip-hop must use the politics of memory to its advantage. It must stake a claim to perceptions of hip-hop in the popular media and make the memory it hopes others see. We cannot let the misfortunes, blunders, and disgraces build a mountain of distrust and disaster mongering (C. Delores Tucker anyone) to slow or reverse our journey.

- Nick J. Sciullo

(Photo of Coolio by Task Force Eagle, United States Army)

Friday, April 3, 2009

Where Have All of the Female Rappers Gone?

The 1980s and 1990s saw a number of female hip hop artists attain critical and commerical success. However, hip hop is currently suffering from a serious lack of female representation. contributors Kamille Wolff, Horace Anderson, and Brian Welch weigh in.

Kamille Wolff:

“It’s a sausage fest!” That was the exclamation hurled through the phone by my celebrity rapper/music producer friend. It took a moment for me to understand, but I soon realized what he was referring to. He was comically referencing the lack of female artists in the hip hop industry. Although his expression was less than diplomatic, his frustration was fully warranted. Why do we rarely see a woman commanding the mic when it comes to a genre that was founded upon bringing a different perspective to the musical landscape?

Male domination is the order of the day in many types of cutting-edge art forms. This phenomenon is not isolated to just hip hop. Grunge, rock, and metal are mainstream genres of music that have very few women in the forefront. Even within ethnic music communities, such as reggae and reggaeton, its message is disseminated mostly by men. When women are presented, they tend to be over sexualized or overtly masculine to a fault. Is this a function of natural selection or is there something else at work?

While in law school, I considered practicing entertainment law to protect the rights of artists. I was discreetly pulled aside at an entertainment law conference and told by a female mentor that I should never wear heels and a skirt. Instead, I was abruptly told to stick to flats and pant suits so that I would not distract my predominately male clients. “They will never listen to a word you say if you do not dress down,” she stated as I looked on in disbelief. The “they” was the stereotypical urban male who would be more interested in dating me than retaining me. I was flabbergasted by her comment. I was shocked that this educated woman was telling me that I could not appear feminine and competently get my work done at the same time. Whether I chose a pant or skirt suit, the look would always be tasteful and professional. Why should my clothing, dictated by my gender, put me at a disadvantage in working with the hip hop crowd?

At the same conference, there was a panel on sports law and how to break into the business as a sports agent. The entire panel was composed of white males. A young, black female stood and asked if, in the panel’s opinion, she would one day be able to enter into the sports agency field. Her question was met with a pause as the panelists, one by one, responded on how difficult it would be as a woman to convince players to sign with her. An older black woman then stood in the back of the room and claimed that she had had the exact opposite experience – she was embraced by several male players because she was female. She eloquently explained the complexity of the state of the black family where oftentimes the woman is the head of the household, especially in the inner-city communities where several of these players come from. This female veteran stated that her young black male clients trusted her more than her white male competitors to act in their best interest. Her male clients looked at her as both an agent and a counselor. She then added the insight that several of these athletes grew up without a father, thereby generating trust issues when it came to men. These men witnessed their mothers pay the bills and manage the finances of the household with little or no assistance from a male. As a result, women were the role models when it came to financial stability and security for these players. Accordingly, these professional athletes specifically sought her out as someone who resembled their mother in signing with a business partner and associate. Thereby, this female sports agent’s gender put her at an advantage when it came to young black male athletes. Could the same be true for the hip hop generation and young black male rappers?

Women are absent in large number from the hip hop landscape - both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. From the recording booth to the boardroom, women do not occupy a place in the decision or taste making for the hip hop industry. Instead, our female counterpart, the video vixen, receives a disproportionate share of the attention. We have come so far, yet have gone too far. How do we pull back the reigns on objectifying the female anatomy to move units? It will take a nation of millions and a pocket full of millions. Women are entering law school at a rate close to the equivalency of men. Women now make up approximately 50% of entering law school classes, yet men still overwhelmingly dominate the legal profession. This is particularly true when it comes to high level positions at large law firms. Perhaps we will not see a shift anytime soon, but I choose to remain optimistic. Hip hop can gain a competitive edge if it allows more women into the fold. The purchasing power of women, along with the creativity of the female touch, can only add to the rich texture of the hip hop movement. Microphone check 1-2, 1-2…is this thing on?

Horace Anderson:

The short answer to this question, especially if we are talking about mainstream hip-hop, is “back to the margins.” Although we can rattle off the names of talented female rappers past (Lyte, Latifah, Salt n’ Pepa) and present (Jean Grae, Jane Doe), being talented and getting shine are two different things. Hip-hop has traditionally been an overwhelmingly male-dominated space that only grudgingly (and perhaps temporarily) made space for women. The current situation may just be a return to some gender-skewed equilibrium. It may also be yet another example of the music’s loss of diversity and variety of voices.

In the beginning, most of the crews and solo artists that made it to the mainstream were male. Then, answer records started to provide an entry point for talented women. Roxanne Shanté and Salt ‘n Pepa got on in part because of their battles on wax with UTFO and The Get Fresh Crew. Once it was established that women had rhyme skills, we went through a period where nearly every crew or collective wanted to have a woman associated with it. The Juice Crew embraced Shanté. The Native Tongues counted Monie Love and Latifah among its membership. The Fugees were essentially fronted by Lauryn Hill. Flip Mode had Rah Digga, Bad Boy/Junior Mafia had Kim, and so on.

The initial expansion of opportunities for female MCs coincided with Hip-Hop’s golden age of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, which embraced a certain level of musical diversity. In hip-hop’s “big tent,” the Fresh Prince could co-exist with Kool G Rap, De La Soul with Onyx, the Pharcyde with N.W.A., and Public Enemy with 2 Live Crew. New York began to acknowledge that good music could come from the west, the south, and the midwest (and even other cities in the east). Acts like Boo Ya Tribe, Kid Frost, 3rd Bass, and House of Pain proved that you did have to be black or Puerto Rican to be hip-hop. If all different styles, subject matters, geographies, and races were welcome, then it was probably easier than it had been before to envision a place for women in the movement.

But then, mainstream hip-hop began to get narrower and less diverse. First, the gansgta rap genre, then Cristal rap, shrunk the available creative space for rappers, including female rappers. Gangsta rappers rapped about guns and drugs. Unless you were rapping about guns and drugs, you got no attention from labels or radio stations. “Ladies First?” No thanks. “Princess of the Posse?” Get to the back with that. The only room for a woman in this form of hip-hop was as Apache’s “Gangsta Bitch,” or as a mule for some rapper’s drugs and guns. The Cristal-ization of mainstream hip-hop, while softening some of gangsta rap’s hard edges, did little to provide a place for women who wanted to get on the mic. An iced-out playa or baller did not need a woman running her mouth on wax. He needed her (and her friends) shaking their booties on his video. Take a look at the explosion in opportunities for “video vixens” in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Now see how many commercially successful female rappers you can think of who emerged during that period. It’s not a coincidence.

Brian Welch:

The current dearth of prominent female hip hop artists has coincided with a pair of recent and related trends.

One trend is the exclusion of females from the leading hip hop factions and labels of recent years. What has Jim Jones’ Dipset/ByrdGang, 50 Cent’s G-Unit, Fat Joe’s Terror Squad, T.I’s Grand Hustle, Slim Thug’s Boss Hogg Outlawz, and Three Six Mafia’s Hypnotize Camp Posse had in common recently? Not one of them has incorporated a regular female presence into their act. Contrast that with the 1990s, when Jermaine Dupri’s So So Def (Da Brat), Dr. Dre’s Aftermath (Lady of Rage), Busta Rhymes’ FlipMode Squad (Rah Digga), Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella (Amil), The Fugees (Lauryn Hill), and the Ruff Ryders (Eve) all featured female acts capable of standing on their own two feet. (O.K., maybe Amil doesn’t count.)

So why haven’t hip hop conglomerates welcomed females into their ranks in recent years? The current trend of gender exclusion and homogeneity in hip hop is likely the result of many factors, but possibly none more so than mainstream hip hop’s digression into a bottles and bling genre at the beginning of this decade. Until recently, when thoughtful artists began to reemerge on the charts and airwaves, hip hop in the 21st century focused largely on club life and its emphasis on money and sex.

This resulted in another trend.

In an effort to find their place in the dumb downed world of early 21st century hip hop, many female rappers forsook what made them unique and instead focused on fitting into the tarnished landscape. Instead of Queen Latifah’s transcendent wisdom, Eve’s confident femininity, or Missy Elliot’s staccato delivery and airtight production, we were stuck with Trina, Shawnna, Remy Ma and the like, each of whom sounds like any other male rapper obsessed with pursuing his next bottle of Dom and late-night hook up. Why would Dipset introduce a female thug into the fold when it already has plenty of male (i.e., more believable) prototypes?

Nevertheless, there will always be a place for women in hip hop. Prominent male artists such as Kanye West, Jay-Z, Lupe Fiasco, and Eminem each have their own unique shtick, be it pink polos, corporate takeovers, skateboards, or even tales from the trailer park. The key to success for female rappers of today (as M.I.A. is demonstrating) is to embrace what makes them unique. Listeners will surely take notice.

(Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Was Street Artist’s Use of AP Photo to Create Obama Hope Poster “Fair”? A Look at Where Infringement Ends and Transformation Begins

Lines have been drawn in the sand and the fight has commenced. A classic David and Goliath battle is set to take place in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York between graphic artist Shepard Fairey and the Associated Press (AP). The spoils of this war? A definitive answer about what constitutes the proper interpretation of the law governing fair use of copyrighted works.

The Law

Copyright owners control the exclusive right to, among other things, prepare derivative works. For example, a screenplay based on a novel is a derivative work. But use of a copyrighted work for purposes like criticism and comment is not an infringement, but rather a fair use that does not require the permission of the owner. A court considers four factors to determine whether a use is fair: the purpose for the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount used, and whether the use negatively impacts the potential market for the copyrighted work.

The Beef

It seems Fairey referenced a photo, owned by the AP, of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama to serve as inspiration for his artistic rendition of the candidate. That rendition became an iconic portrait of Obama and an unofficial but integral part of Obama’s grassroots message of hope and progress.

The problem is the photo on which the poster was based was taken by Mannie Garcia in 2006 on assignment for the AP at the National Press Club in Washington. Now a firestorm of controversy surrounds Fairey’s use. Was it fair or violative of the AP’s copyright? The answer lies in whether Fairey’s portrait is sufficiently transformative to constitute a new work, or whether it is merely a derivative of the photograph. The issue is whether Fairey has advanced the constitutional directive to “promote the useful arts” by adding something new or has merely leeched off another’s creativity.

Fairey, a Los Angeles-based “street” artist, is the modern day David in this story. And he drew first blood when he aimed his proverbial sling shot directly between the eyes of the AP and fired. Or, rather, filed. A law suit that is.

The term “street artist” is a bit misleading. Fairey did develop his craft and street cred at the underground level. But now he is graphic artist royalty, producing cover art for projects ranging from the Black Eyed Peas's album Monkey Business to The Smashing Pumpkins' album Zeitgeist and Anthrax's The Greater Of Two Evils. But Fairey’s artistry is more than creative. At its core, it’s political. His “Obey” campaign urges the observer to question obedience to social commands and the political status quo.

Fairey, well versed in the language of civil disobedience, is represented by Anthony Falzone of Stanford University’s Fair Use Project. His Complaint seeks a judgment declaring legal his use of the AP photo and an injunction against the AP. Recently, the AP counter-claimed asserting its infringement claim.

This is obviously shaping up to be one helluva battle! Stay tuned for updates. We’ll definitely be tracking this case.

- Tonya M. Evans, Assistant Professor of Law, Widener University School of Law

Author, Copyright Companion for Writers

(Photo by the Associated Press)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Compton, California Enjoys a Surprise Revival


"In the 1990s, mention of the city of Compton inspired many various reactions, some violent, some respectful. But to many, the idea of Compton was toxic. In the 1990s, Compton schools were crumbling, drugs were rampant, and street gang tensions had escalated into what historian Josh Sides described as “a brutal guerilla war.” The city became the U.S. murder capital, surpassing Washington with one homicide for every 1,000 residents. In 1989, a 2-year-old was gunned down in a drive-by as he wandered his front yard; a 16-year-old was shot with a semiautomatic weapon as he rode his bike.

The image of Compton as a defiantly violent ghetto was crystallized by N.W.A., whose 1988 album, “Straight Outta Compton,” went multiplatinum, even though it was banned by many radio stations. The record even attracted the attention of the FBI, which felt the group was inciting violence with its song, “Fuck tha Police.”

Two decades later, reports indicate that Compton has a new lease on life. The community is still poor and unemployment is more than twice the national average but the number of homicides is at a 25-year low, half of what it was in 2005. There are fewer gunshots and more places for kids to go after school. Alongside the liquor stores and check-cashing stands are signs of middle-class aspiration: a T.G.I. Fridays, an outbreak of Starbucks and a natural-food store. Along the way, blacks became a minority in Compton, which is 60 percent Latino today.

The change, say community members, is palpable. Residents walk dogs, they go out at night, graduation rates are higher, and a recent canvassing effort counted more than 25 nonprofits targeted specifically toward youth. The hope is that these improvements will change the city back into what it once was.

In 1952, Compton received the National Civic League’s “All American Cities” honor, and by 1960, the city’s median income was almost twice that of Watts, with an unemployment rate of less than a third. In 1963, the city elected its first black politician, Douglas Dollarhide, who would later become the city’s first black mayor. “I have wonderful memories of growing up here,” says Judge Kelvin Filer. “The street that I was raised on was straight out of ‘Leave It to Beaver,’ with African-Americans. We played Little League, were in the Cub Scouts, and all went to the same church.”"

Read the complete story, "Straight Into Compton", here.