Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Bar Exam

Artist: Black Rob
Track: Life Story
Album: Life Story

Never had a dime, my life a crime
Had me when I was nine, mom drunk off of wine
Ran with all kinds, her mind stayed wit the stupor
'til a point she paid no mind to the Super
Stay mad but stay frontin' with smiles
Stayed on the ground once and a while
First day of school never had nuttin' to style
Mister Colondre stressin' I ain't come in a while
It was a bummer, rocking the shit I rocked all summer
On the first day I was feeling some kind of way
and she wasn't trying to do nuttin'
You would think for the sake of the kids
she would enroll in school or somethin'
Now I know then was even harder
Especially for a single mother raising me with no father
Shit living up in this tenement, eating stale M&M's
Talking wild shit to Spanish immigrants
I speak in codes,
man "tu sabe"
Always "calle te" then “bendición” to mi madre
Even though she did nuttin' for me
Acknowledge me as I run down my life story

Monday, May 25, 2009

Michael Vick is Out; T.I. is In ... Fair Justice or PR Maneuvering in the Courts?

Last week Michael Vick was released from a Leavenworth, Kansas federal prison after a 19 month sentence following his guilty plea for running a six-year long dogfighting ring known as “Bad Newz Kennels.”  Vick’s role has been questioned in the ring, however, we do know that he actively participated in several dog fights, shared the proceeds from the fights, had knowledge that underperforming dogs were executed, and helped fund the entire operation.  Now, the former NFL star will retreat to his Virginia home where he will work for $10 an hour at a construction company, volunteer with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and serve out the remaining two months of his sentence under home confinement.  

Much like he has during this whole ordeal, Vick remained quiet following his release and avoided the media altogether upon leaving the prison facility.  There were no cries at how he’s a changed man and no words on his future rehabilitation efforts.  He simply got into his fiancé’s car and went home.

Meanwhile, the media frenzy that has surrounded Vick from day one picked up coverage like the well oiled machine that it is.  ESPN was out in full force airing coverage live from the scene of his release and the home he would return to.  Pundits were back again, declaring that Vick had much more to do if he wanted to return to his former job, including begging NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for another chance.  PETA has not stopped their campaign against Vick either, requesting that he undergo a brain scan to prove that he doesn’t have an anti-social personality disorder before returning to the NFL.  


Fast forward to this week, another Atlanta superstar is set to head to prison.  This time it is Billboard topping T.I. who was sentenced to 366 days in prison after pleading guilty to two charges of illegally possessing firearms and of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. The “King of the South” will be spending his time at a low-security federal prison in Forrest City, Arkansas. The guilty plea stems from his attempt to buy unlicensed machine guns and silencers in October of 2007. During the sting operation, authorities also found several guns in T.I.’s home and in the car he drove buy the guns, including a loaded gun tucked between the driver’s seat where he was sitting.  Normally T.I. would be subjected to five or more years in prison for the offense, however, part of his "experimental" plea deal included a reduced sentence combined with 1,000 hours of community service this past year and speaking to kids about the consequences of living a street life similar to his. 


Unlike Vick, T.I. has taken a completely different route regarding his pending incarceration.  While Vick did his best to avoid the media, T.I. has turned it into a large PR campaign by continually speaking out to the media and even capitalizing on the situation with the MTV show T.I.’s Road to Redemption.  

The PR campaign exercised by the T.I. camp has paid off.  While Vick spent 19 months in prison for an arguably lesser offense, (Vick’s actions were offensive but he dealt with dogs, T.I. dealt with machine guns) T.I. will only be spending a year away from home.  Vick has also taken a much larger financial hit as he had to walk away from his $130 million contract.  Let’s not forget that fellow emcee Foxy Brown was also sentenced to a year in prison for violating her probation … for fighting her manicurists in a nail salon.  

The role the media has played on these two individuals cannot be denied.  Vick entered prison a man convicted well beyond the courts with a damaged reputation that will likely be impossible to repair.  On the other hand, T.I. has successfully convinced the media that he is a changed man before spending one day behind bars. 

The obvious question to ask now is whether justice has really been served.  Is the role of the media too strong?  If you’re an entertainer, has T.I. set the precedent on dodging a severe sentence by working the airwaves in a positive way?

One thing is for sure, however, when T.I. walks back into society a free man in one year … the media will be waiting for him … as he steps to the podium. 

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Performance Rights Act: A Big Win for Artists or A Record Label Bailout?

Last Wednesday the House Judiciary Committee passed the Performance Rights Act (H.R. 848), which would require radio stations to pay royalties to artists for playing their music, similar to how other platforms like satellite, cable, and Internet radio stations already do. Under current law, musicians receive zero income when their music is played on AM / FM radio.  

Essentially, this Act would close the exemption that the radio industry has enjoyed since the 1920's in which radio stations have not had to pay royalties to artists for their work.  Instead, radio stations have historically paid an agreed upon annual amount to copyright holders, leaving the performers in the dust while profiting off the airplay. 

This legislation could represent an important victory for artists if indeed the money being paid by radio stations ends up in their hands.  Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), who introduced the legislation, stated to the Detroit News

"The time is finally ripe for establishing some form of equity for recording artists, allowing them to be paid fair compensation for their creativity."  - Rep. John Conyers

While the premise of this legislation is a rather logical one - artists should be paid for their creativity and their work - questions still remain and opposition will certainly follow. Modifications have already been made to the bill to minimize the impact it will have on small broadcasters.  As of right now, stations with an annual gross revenue of less than $100,000 would pay $500 each year.  Those with revenues between $100,000 and $500,000 would pay $2,500.  Finally, those fortunate enough to have revenues between $500,000 and $1.25 million would pay a fee of $5,000 per year. Conyers has also requested the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study of the bill's potential overall impact on radio stations.  

It is also not clear how much artists will actually benefit if the bill comes to fruition. Will the artist receive compensation or will the money simply go to the record label? This obstacle, along with the potential impact facing radio stations will surely be debated in the coming weeks, however, this bill is likely to keep moving along as it appears that bi-partisan support is strong.  Recently, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) expressed her support on Air America and reminded listeners that the United States is one of the few industrialized countries that does not compensate artists and performers for airplay.  

While the full impact of this bill is yet to be seen, it may have already served the purpose of opening the eyes of many people that a glaring problem exists in our current radio format ... artists are not being paid ... at all.  The relationship between artists and radio stations may have been a mutually beneficial one in the past when radio stations could profit off of the airplay and artists could profit off of the exposure through record sales, however, that is the old formula.  Now, the evolving music industry must look at every possible avenue to find profitability, even if that means confronting your once closest friend. 

Thursday, May 14, 2009

When Rappers Had Day Jobs: The Rick Ross Credibility Conundrum

Rick Ross was a C.O. (at least, so says 50). So what? Why does it matter? Does the argument over Ross’ street cred have any relevance to the larger hip-hop nation? After all, hip-hop artists evolve from real people with real world concerns, like eating and keeping a roof over their heads. Real world concerns lead to real world jobs, like delivering packages, working construction, and, yes, getting on as a C.O. Not every rapper actually hustled on a corner in order to feed his daughter.

Hip-hop artists also evolve after hip-hop, right? AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted now makes family-friendly comedies. The Cop Killer is a cop now (or at least he plays one on TV). Flava Flav does whatever it is that he does. Uncle L is about to star in an “NCIS” spinoff. That’s a long way from Farmer’s Boulevard. And the stage personas of many rappers are characters any way, right? How many self-proclaimed macks are actually family men, especially in middle age? How many so-called gangsters have never seen Central Booking, or done a bid? So, why the uproar over Ross?

The answer is that, even as its messages became less "positive," even as it went through a period of cartoonish gangsterism and materialistic excess, hip-hop was consistent in one way. There was always an undercurrent of counterculturalism, and a critique of the criminal justice system. The critique was not always as well articulated as in "Illegal Search" or "Black Cop," but it was there. Biggin' up your man upstate, celebrating the dealers and the hustlers, and rapping about one's battles with the DEA or ATF all comment, to an extent, on limited choices, neglect of urban communities by the state, and violence perpetrated against those communities by the state. If the state is an antagonistic "other" in hip-hop culture, then the representative of the state, especially a representative of the "system," can’t be legitimately hip-hop. At least, so goes the theory.

Maybe it’s time to discard that theory. Just as it took hip-hop artists getting involved in the business side of the music in order for them to really get paid, maybe hip-hop heads need to be open to infiltrating The Beast so that change can occur there as well. Although he had his problems, the declaration of Kwame Kilpatrick as the "Hip-Hop Mayor" was an important statement about where hip-hop can go in terms of bringing about social change. Maybe we need more hip-hop mayors, hip-hop judges, hip-hop cops, and, yes, hip-hop COs.

- Horace Anderson

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Forgeries: Canal Street to the Port of Miami

It looks like Rick Ross cannot keep himself out of the news. After the much over-hyped confrontation between Ross and 50 Cent, Ross now finds himself at the center of a "street cred" scandal. On the May 2009 Edition of XXL, Ross sports Louis Vuitton shades, prominently displaying the distinct LV logo.

It's no surprise that hip-hop artists are wearing fake glasses and sneakers. The money's seldom as good as the talk on the latest single, but what new questions are raised when an artist publicly flaunts forgeries? Is there a difference between wearing fake shades on the airplane or at an award show and wearing them for the cover of a magazine?

The LV folks didn't take lightly to Ross's stylistic decision. A lawyer for Louis Vuitton, Michael D. Pantalony, wrote XXL this letter:
Dear Editor:

We were dismayed to see the cover of the May 2009 issue of XXL Magazine, which features a photo of Rick Ross wearing a pair of sunglasses prominently featuring counterfeit Louis Vuitton trademarks. Because the photo has generated considerable confusion among your readers and Louis Vuitton customers among others, we feel it is important to clarify several points.

The first is that the sunglasses Mr. Ross is wearing were not made by Louis Vuitton, and in fact, are counterfeit. Louis Vuitton did not grant permission to Mr. Ross or to whoever did make the sunglasses to use our trademarks. The second is that no affiliation, sponsorship or association exists between Rick Ross or XXL and Louis Vuitton. The third is that counterfeiting is illegal.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to correct the confusion.

Michael D. Pantalony, Esq.
Louis Vuitton Malletier
Copyright infringement with respect to handbags, sneakers, and clothing has long been a problem and although sporadic reports of crackdowns have surfaced, it seems the forgery market is alive and well. Canal Street, long the center of the forgery market, is but the beginning of the problem. In almost every major U.S. city you'll find places to purchase knockoffs so good they might even be better made than the originals. I recently spent time in South Florida, where the world's "largest swap shop" happens to be located. The vendors were stocked with counterfeit merchandise. Some of it looked good, some of it... well... didn't exactly make the cut.

The problem is prevalent and law enforcement seldom has the resources to track down ever corner store, tent, and flea market booth to find those profiting from breaking intellectual property laws. With serious crimes like murder and assault often large problems in metro areas, it's logical to see why IP violations fall by the wayside. Many would logically argue that fake Kate Spade bags don't cause double digit increases in a city's murder rate.

The problem does not stop at hip-hop. Suburban families purchase counterfeit goods, students (even law students) flaunt their illegal merchandise in classrooms and lectures. The irony of a law student sitting in intellectual property law, laptop encased in a fake Vera Bradley computer bag, a fake Dooney & Burke purse tucked neatly under a chair crammed full of Nutshell books, and fake Juicy Couture sweatpants on is not a foreign image. It occurs in colleges across the country on a regular basis. There comes a point where consumers will actually flaunt how accurate their forgery is as opposed to saving money to buy the genuine article. I've observed some of those conversations and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

How do we combat this sort of IP violation?

(Canal Street photo by Jennifer Bodrow)

The Bar Exam

Artist: Common
Track: Real People
Album: Be

I wonder is the spirits of Bob Marley and Haile Selassie
Watch me as the cops be tryin' to pop and lock me
They cocky, plus thier mentality is Nazi
The way they treat Blacks I wanna snap like paparazzi
We're the children of a better God searchin' for better jobs
We could cop ghetto cars tryin' not to catch a charge
They say the dope game is sour
Now they doin' homework that's when they follow you for hours
Come to your crib and devour all that you work for
Must be more than paper these niggaz hurt for
Through the purple haze I circle days I rhyme for work that pays
Tryin' to reverse the slave's mind and insert the brave mentality
Heard that it's drama at home
Can a dude break free and still get honored at home?
I was told by a chief it's the games nature
When you're glowin' some will love and some will hate ya
It's real people

Saturday, May 9, 2009

"The Carter"

Lil’ Wayne’s attempt to block Quincy Jones and Jones’ production company from releasing the 2009 documentary “The Carter” has been rejected. Lil Wayne sued Quincy Jones and QD3 Entertainment seeking an injunction from the Los Angeles Superior Court on March 23, 2009 asking the Court to enjoin the release of The Carter by alleging Breach of Contract, Fraud by Intentional Misrepresentation, Constructive Fraud and Invasion of Privacy.

Lil Wayne’s lawsuit arises from presentation of “The Carter” at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in January 2009, with plans for nationwide theatrical release of the documentary to follow this year. The documentary was shot over several months in 2008 and brings the audience into the controversial rappers life through concert and studio footage, interviews and behind-the-scenes access originally granted by Lil Wayne.

The complaint states that in 2007, Lil Wayne was approached about the documentary, which QD3 claimed would offer an “in-depth look at the artist Dwayne ‘Lil Wayne’ Carter, Jr., proclaimed by many as the ‘greatest rapper.’” In December 2007, Lil Wayne signed an agreement which provided that Lil Wayne would make himself broadly available for the ninety-minute documentary and make photos and videos from his personal archives available to the producers. The agreement also specified, according to the complaint, that Lil Wayne would be given the “sole right of final approval” of any scenes that portrayed his actions or activities as criminal in nature.

Prior to its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, in December 2008 and early January 2009, copies of the nearly complete documentary were submitted to Lil Wayne’s manager, who rejected portions of the footage, asking that certain questionable content, which management felt painted Lil Wayne in a negative light, be removed from the film. Lil Wayne’s manager also went on to demand, in writing, that the film not be showcased at Sundance, unless the scenes in question were removed.

Despite this request, the film debuted at the 2009 Sundance Festival with the questionable scenes intact. The Carter screened January 17, 19, 21 and 23, despite requests submitted by Lil Wayne’s management that the film be pulled. Lil Wayne’s management, in seeking the injunction against nationwide release, believes that The Carter would cause irreparable damage to Lil Wayne’s reputation and career.

On Wednesday April 22, 2009, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Mink refused to grant an injunction blocking the upcoming release of The Carter. Quincy Jones stated in Variety Magazine that “We’re very pleased with the court’s decision. . . . We made a great film, which was incredibly well received at Sundance, and showcases Lil Wayne's extraordinary talent.” The Carter, which was directed by Adam Bhala Lough, has no scheduled theatrical release date as of this time.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Report Suggests Illegal Downloaders Are Also Most Likely to Purchase Music

Research findings in a recent report issued by the BI Norwegian School of Management seem to support the long and widely held belief among P2P file sharers that this group is ten times (that’s right, ten times!) more likely than their non file sharing counterparts to purchase legitimate downloads from services like iTunes.

This finding supports a 2006 report issued by the Canadian Record Industry Association that P2P users do in fact purchase music and are not the primary cause of recently sluggish sales. In fact, all of the research is pointing toward consumer disinterest or dissatisfaction, not illegal downloading, as primary factors.

BI’s Auden Molde was reported by Norwegian’s Music Information Centre to say: “The most surprising finding of this study is that the percentage of legally downloaded music is so high. The results of the study suggest that legal downloads outnumber illegal downloads by a wide margin. We also saw that users stating that they were involved in illegal P2P file sharing were in fact the legal download services' biggest clients.”

So perhaps the P2P file sharing "try before you buy" model is more boom than bust for a music industry that only puts 2 or 3 purchase-worthy tracks on a CD these days. Maybe ... just maybe, the P2P model is picking up the slack and filling in the information gap for consumers because radio stations fall far short by choosing to play (for some strange reason) the same 7 (or is it now 6?) songs every hour on the hour. Case in point: if I hear “Poker Face” one more time, I swear...

- Tonya M. Evans, Assistant Professor of Law and author of Copyright Companion for Writers

Visit her blog @ ipprof.blogspot.com

Monday, May 4, 2009

Are we confusing the already confused?

Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, the hottest new race public intellectual, recently described an intellectual this way: "As an intellectual, it's my job to take ideas that pass as common sense and complicate them." You can read the full story in the Philadelphia Daily News. Although Dr. Hill is clearly joking, there's an important grain of truth to what he says. The way individuals describe problems and make arguments affects the ability of others to empathize, sympathize, and act on those very issues.

Does hip hop and its intellectual investigation risk obscuring the simple truths of life? We know there is racism and sexism. We know that public policy has not always treated the economically deprived fairly. We know illicit drug use is a problem and so on and so forth.

Intellectuals and hip hop artists are alike in many respects and one of them is the confusing language we often use to describe situations and problems that we really wish people outside of our community or intellectual persuasion understood.

Let's look at some examples. When Chamillionaire released "Ridin'," quite a few colleagues had no idea what he was talking about. Even folks who listen to hip hop are sometimes left confused by hip hop lyrics. When Jagged Edge released "Cut Somethin'," who outside of the South new what they were talking about? With hip hop vernacular continually updating and regionalizing itself, its no wonder confusion abounds. The problem is, logically, that it is often difficult to understand what a song critiques or asks of the listener.

Intellectuals have the same difficulty. If one is not accustomed to reading post-structuralist theory, then the material seems quite dense. Likewise an analytical lawyering class might be difficult to grasp for non-economics majors. Reading some of today's Neo-Marxists can be more frustrating than reading William Faulkner backwards. What power can intellectuals have if they cannot articulate their arguments? Part and parcel or persuasion is clarity. Without clarity the message is muddled and the results are often uninspiring.

Language constructs reality, but also, unfortunately, can be used to build a fence around an individual's reality that obscures appreciation from outsiders. This does not mean we should do away with the useful tools of irony, hyperbole, and the like, but that we must be willing to take the extra step of explaining our work, be it album or law review article, to more than our colleagues and compatriots.

That seems to me to be the very point of being a public intellectual.

(Photo courtesy of Wayne Riley)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Bar Exam

Artist: Jadakiss
Track: What If (feat. Nas)
Album: The Last Kiss

Take a second, what if we could rewind the hood?
Better yet, what if the L.O.X. woulda signed with Suge?
What if Puffy never signed us?
What if Oprah made them comments
Like Imus?
What if you designed this
Thought like I did?
Said it like this:
What if Peyton was fighting dogs instead of Mike Vick?
What if Arnold would just let Tookie get life?
What if B.I.G. missed the party,
What if 'Pac missed the fight?

What if you was caged in?
What would you change then?
What if there was no Rocafella law for "Made Men?"
What if hate ran through me?
And what if Portland
Would've drafted Jordan
Instead of Sam Bowie?
What if you really have to be nice to get a deal?
What if all of these rappers' ice was really real?
What if I hit you with the razor from cheek to chin?
What if Mike Jackson never would have bleached his skin?