Tuesday, September 28, 2010

New Blog Projects on Teaching Law

I know that many of us who read this blog are also concerned about teaching, particularly teaching law. My colleague, Jena Martin Amerson and I have started two new blogs: (1) Teaching Law in the 21st Century and (2) Thoughts about Citizens United.

Thoughts on Citizens United is designed to provide an opportunity for students who read and analyze issues ranging from corporations, election law, constitutional law and other related disciplines to comment and construct their own knowledge of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Professors in relevant areas are welcome to direct themselves and their students to the Thoughts on Citizens United page. Teaching Law in the 21st Century is designed to be a forum for professors from law and higher education generally to discuss how to reach the Internet generation. I hope that the audience of this blog would find this of interest given the fact that the so-called "post-hip hop" generation is also the Internet generation (a generation which, as I alluded to in an earlier post, uses the Internet for self and political expression). Together, these blogs represent an opportunity to think about and apply practices designed to reach the Millenials.

We hope you will join the discussions at Teaching Law in the 21st Century and Thoughts on Citizens United.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Crack-Powder Cocaine Disparity Update

Hip hop has long critiqued the racial disparities in the criminal justice system. In particular, artists have spoken out in strident rhyme against the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity. Ice Cube in "The N***a Ya Love to Hate" and Lil Wayne in "Don'tGetIt/Misunderstood," both critique in detail the devastating impact of the sentencing disparity on communities of color and young African American men (see below). Both Ice Cube and Lil Wayne, amongst dozens of other artists, may take heart in a recent Obama era legislative enactment.

In a completely under the radar moment, a new law of considerable importance was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in August. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 was introduced by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) in March 2010 and signed into law by President Obama on August 3, 2010. Before passage of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, defendants that possessed 5 grams of “crack” cocaine were sentenced to a mandatory minimum prison term of 5 years. In contrast, a defendant possessing powder cocaine had to possess 500 grams of powder before the same 5-year mandatory minimum sentence would be triggered. For more than 20 years, a 100:1 crack-powder sentencing disparity has existed in our nation’s federal legislation. This disparity has literally devastated urban communities across the nation and has cost the U.S. government millions of dollars as federal and state prisons are overflowing with non-violent inmates, an overwhelming majority of which are African American.

As an example, 80% of all defendants sentenced under federal crack cocaine laws in 2008 were African-American, and prison sentences for crack cocaine offenses averaged two years longer than those for powder cocaine. As President Obama observed at the signing of the Fair Sentencing Act, the old sentencing regime was “fundamentally unfair.” The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 aims to “restore fairness to Federal cocaine sentencing,” by significantly reducing the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity from 100:1 to 18:1. Today, a defendant must now possess 28 grams of crack cocaine (rather than 5 grams) before a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence is required. This difference represents an enormous practical effect, which is that this new threshold essentially eliminates the mandatory 5-year minimum for simple possession—most dealers and traffickers carry crack in amounts of 28 grams or more.

Further, the Fair Sentencing Act increases monetary penalties for major traffickers and increases prison sentences for a number of aggravating factors, including violence or weapons possession during cocaine trafficking offenses, which practically shifts the focus of the federal “War on Drugs” from simple possession to violent trafficking. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reports that this shift will result in federal prison savings of over 42 million over the next five years.

Why does any disparity continue to exist in the cocaine sentencing regime? While a complete elimination of the crack/powder disparity was what Senator Durbin initially proposed, proponents of an equal sentencing regime were unable to fully eliminate the disparity, no doubt based on the reputation of “crack” as a dangerous drug that inspires greater violence and allegedly delivers great health risks. Still, 18:1 is a watershed moment as it portends an elimination of the disparity in those punished by federal cocaine laws.

Lil Wayne talks about the sentencing disparity in Don'tGetIt here (begins at 2:35).

Ice Cube references the impact of drug sentencing on African American males in The N***a Ya Love to Hate here (begins at :40)

* Portions of this blog post are cross-posted on the SALT Law Blog.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Vote for HipHopLaw.com for the ABA Blawg 100

You have until October 1 to cast your vote. Voting requires a no more than 500 character explanation of your vote and some basic contact information. Every vote counts. If you enjoy HipHopLaw.com or think others in the legal community should read it, vote.

Editors make the final decision, so don't think your efforts are futile. One well-written entry is all we might need.

The voting page: http://www.abajournal.com/blawgs/blawg100_submit/.

It would be really cool to see HipHopLaw make the cut.

-- Nick J. Sciullo

Thursday, September 16, 2010

CFP: Multi-Contributor Anthology of hip-hop essays

CFP: Multi-Contributor Anthology of hip-hop essays

Hip hop has always been, and continues to be, so many things to so many people. With roots in the past and yet at the same time a revolutionary style of music and expression it offers a rich mix of topics, viewpoints, meanings and inspirations. Hip hop has finally begun to be embraced by scholars and is still eminently important to the public that consumes it and this project hopes to appeal to both ends of that spectrum. This anthology aims to look at the 30-40 year (depending on who you are and when you consider hip-hop 'born') catalogue of hip-hop music, the artists that created and continue to create it, the issues that have influenced it and continue to be prevalent in the music, the past from which it was drawn, the future that it will continue to inhabit. The aim is to show hip hop's past, present and future, where it has come from, where it is now and where it will be ten, twenty or thirty years from now. The past section thus far will include an essay on the connections between beboppers and hip hoppers, a connection between Robin Hood ballads and hip-hop, and an essay addressing the ways in which hip hop artists make use of history and memory (musically, lyrically and visually) to create their version of history. The future section thus far includes an essay on the Australian incarnation of hip hop and addresses hip hop's future in the globalization of the art form, and an essay addressing the political/activism aspect of the hip hop generation and what is required to make it work. The present section is at this point empty, and all sections are in need of many more submitals. The following list is just a few possibilities for topics and if your interest area overlaps with someone else's paper that will not rule out its inclusion as I envision an anthology that can be used to show multiple angles/opinions in one place.

Hip hop's connection to any previous musical style/tradition.
Hip hop's respect for its own past.
The founding days of hip hop.
Changes in hip hop 'uniforms' in terms of fashion connected to the message/music.

The state of hip hop today, is it dead as Nas suggests, in a period of transition/reinvention, is it strong as ever?
What is hip hop saying about current social status?
How has hip-hop impacted/been impacted by events like Hurricane Katrina/Gulf Oil Spill?
Is President Obama our first hip hop president?
Would Wyclef be the answer Haiti needs?

Should hip hop be introduced to the classrooms? How? In what ways shouldn't it?
What is the future of hip hop as a genre?
In what ways will globalization change what we think of as hip hop?
In what ways can hip hop be used as a political vehicle? To what ends?

The publishing company that I am working on this project with would like a book proposal in a month or two, at this point I am collecting abstracts that include an approximate page length to be able to give the publisher an accurate idea of how long the entire project it will be. That being said, I will also be submitting sample chapters so if anyone has a paper written already or can have a paper written in a month or two I would love to have as many sample chapters as possible. As mentioned previously, I want this collection to have broad appeal, if you are interested in doing more opinion piece than research paper feel free to do so, if you have the desire to do interviews instead of any kind of article that would be fantastic. The background is of no difference as I want this project to be as diverse as possible, sociology, music history, African-American studies, popular culture studies, fashion, psychology, history, any and all are welcome. Please submit any abstracts, address any questions to, and feel free to contact me at kingmjl@gmail.com.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Bar Exam

Artist: Damian Marley
Track: Patience - Nas and Damian Marley
Album: Distant Relatives

Some of the smartest dummies
Can’t read the language of Egyptian mummies
An’ a fly go a moon
And can’t find food for the starving tummies
Pay no mind to the youths
Cause it’s not like the future depends on it
But save the animals in the zoo
Cause the chimpanzee dem a make big money
This is how the media pillages
On TV the picture is
Savages in villages
And the scientist still can’t explain the pyramids, huh
Evangelists making a livin' on the videos of ribs of the little kids
Stereotyping the image of the images
And this is what the image is
You buy a khaki pants
And all of a sudden you a say a Indiana Jones
An’ a thief all da gold and thief all da scrolls and even the buried bones
Some of the worst paparazzis I’ve ever seen and I ever known
Put the worst on display so the world can see
And that’s all they will ever show
So the ones in the West
Will never move East
And feel like they could be at home
Dem get tricked by da beast
But a where dem a go flee when the monster is fully grown?
Solomonic linage whe dem still can’t defeat and them coulda never clone
My spiritual DNA that print in my soul and I will forever own, Lord

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Two takes—one Hip Hop, the other . . . not—on the Ground Zero Mosque Controversy

As you probably know, the dispute over Cordova House, the proposed Muslim community center in lower Manhattan has dominated the political headlines for the past month. The dispute has grown from what at least one reporter called a non-issue to a political and ideological fight which has been weighed in on by the likes of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and President Obama (with a subsequent clarification by President Obama’s staff, as reported here by the Washington Post).

I originally planned on reporting on the
blog and the interviews (here, here and here) by hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons in defense of the cultural center. (In addition to being the founder of Def Jam Records, Simmons is a board member of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.) More recently in the Wall Street Journal Online, Simmons challenged Palin and Gingrich to prove they support freedom of worship for Muslims by asking them “to join me in fighting anti-Muslim hate-speech across the nation.

But something else—something thoroughly hip hop, 21st century, and about freedom of speech—caught my attention here: dueling videos on YouTube that go to the heart of the debate. This was originally reported as “
YouTube music videos go head-to-head over ‘ground zero mosque’” on the site Political Scrapbook. As soon as I read the story and saw there was a hip-hop connection, I had to investigate and bring it to your attention. To borrow a famous cinematic line: here . . . we . . . GO!

In this corner, we have a not-ready-for-prime-time Eminem-esque performance by a young rapper who goes by the YouTube handle “
big j stokes” laying down his blunt opinions (read: Parental Guidance Suggested) about the dispute in his homemade cut, The Ground-Zero Mosque RAP!!!

In the other corner, in a style that I’ll call “country music karaoke,” is the counter-argument by “Trade Martin” who performs the oh-so-cryptically titled We’ve Got to Stop the Mosque at Ground Zero.

Now that you’ve seen the two sides, let me be a law professor for a paragraph. I always try to tell my students to always try to understand not just the text, but the context. So, a word on the context: the “Rap” appears homemade by a guy who looks no older than about 17. I mean really—he calls himself “big j stokes.” If you need further proof of the desktop-soapbox nature of his comments, look at his channel on YouTube. You’ll be dazed and confused by the hand-cam videos of Big J in karaoke rap battle.

In contrast, the “We’ve got to Stop the Mosque” video was produced by “
Project Shining City.” From a quick glimpse of their website, Project Shining City is a conservative website which touts American constitutionalism and is aspiring to speak to “the Glen Beck middle.” Moreover, the co-producer, WooTv. us, is a similar Tea Party website, lead by African American Tea Party activist Lloyd Marcus. The site proclaims itself to be the “Home of the Conservative Voice.”

All this sums up the debate and divisions better than my editorializing ever could. So, (most of) my sarcasm aside, here is proof positive that, contrary to the beliefs of some, the First Amendment is not being undercut by special interests, whether they be left, right, or center. In this case, the First Amendment is doing exactly what it is supposed to do: allowing a debate to take place in the open marketplace of ideas that is YouTube. This debate is happening in a fashion that is driven by music and poetry’s appeal to our emotional and intellectual sensibilities—which is the power of hip hop (and also, apparently, cheesy country karaoke).

It is also uniquely 21st century since anyone with a computer and a mix program can state their point of view backed up by a catchy beat. Here, we have a kid with a desktop camera, a hip-hop consciousness, and a beat who is holding his own with the better-funded right wing conservative interests. This fact shows that the First Amendment is working at its best when it creates this opening for a (small-d) democratic throw down. Best of all, the First Amendment allows almost any point of view to be articulated and then you, gentle reader, get to decide what you believe.

(Afterword: I realize that this whole debate depends on the fact that YouTube is free and that anyone can post to it at any time. Thus, I also realize that much could be said about a real threat to the First Amendment: the possible end of net neutrality. It seems fair to ask whether corporate interests will destroy the marketplace of ideas by putting a price tag on the Internet. That is a serious issue, but it is a debate for a future blog posting.)