Monday, January 28, 2013

The Chronic: 20 Years Later

Has it been twenty years since The Chronic dropped in 1993?  Apparently this is true as National Public Radio (NPR) has undertaken to chronicle 1993, a "remarkable year in music."  In looking back at this remarkable year in music, NPR begins by examining Dr. Dre and his Chronic record which "had roots in the cultural and social upheaval sparked by the Los Angeles riots the year before."

While hip hop had long enjoyed wide popularity and important social commentary status, The Chronic became an anthem album for millions of young people in the United States and across the globe.  In responding in part to the L.A. Riots, The Chronic captured the anger, angst, and anxiety that encapsulated a city and community that considered itself, in some ways, at war with the police employed to protect them.  Hip hop had critiqued police brutality aggressively before 1993 and The Chronic, particularly in Dr Dre's former group N.W.A.'s still fiery "F*#k tha Police, and Public Enemy's "Get the F*#k Outta Dodge," but The Chronic was the first to deal with police brutality following the world's introduction to the Los Angeles Police Department's brutalization of Rodney King, which precipitated the L.A. Riots.

Recall, that in the late 1980s when NWA released "F*#k tha Police" and Public Enemy recorded "Get the F*#k Outta Dodge," hip hop was acting as the "Black CNN" reporting on inner city community ills that were largely ignored by the mass media.  NWA and Public Enemy came under intense criticism for their anti-police brutality songs in the late 1980s, as law enforcement officials and politicians simply denied such critiques.  Only after the LAPD was captured on a grainy hand-held video beating the prone and subdued Rodney King was America clued in to the truth that NWA and Public Enemy had been claiming through narrative lyric:  U.S. law enforcement commonly brutalizes the communities they are charged to protect.

Seizing on this moment, (i.e., America's eye-opening moment that police brutality continues against people of color), The Chronic bemoans the circumstances that attend life in the 'hood (through Lil' Ghetto Boy, Nuthin' but a G Thang, and The Day the N*#*#z Took Over, amongst others).  The NPR story concludes:  "[The Chronic] is an audio document, with a lot of creativity and art and entertainment going along with it. Some people might think that that's wrong, but it's art, it's poetry. And it's supposed to have pain in it. You can gather that from listening to The Chronic — about the L.A. riots — you can feel it, you can kind of understand. And a lot of people agree that they captured it incredibly well. . . . [The Chronic] doesn't have all the answers, and it didn't solve the problems of its time. It's low-riding party music, intended to provide an escape. It also gives voice to the frustrations borne of burned-out buildings, grinding poverty and a feeling that nobody cared."

Monday, January 21, 2013

Martin Luther King and Equal Economic Opportunity

On a day where the United States celebrates the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it seems appropriate to remember his legacy through highlighting his lesser known campaign against poverty.  Following an era that witnessed Dr. King winning the Nobel Peace Prize and leading the civil rights movement in the 1960s, he turned his attention squarely upon economic inequality prior to his assassination.  In the last few years of his life, Dr. King implored the nation and those in power to allow, even provide, equal opportunity for all.

From Dedrick Muhammad's article "The Economic Lessons of Martin Luther King" we see that:  "In fact, in the last year of his life, Dr. King was organizing the Poor People's Campaign, a multiracial effort to alleviate poverty and provide guaranteed income for every citizen. King understood that without greater economic equality, racial disparities and divisions could not be overcome."  Muhammad notes further that "[d]uring Dr. King's famed speech at the March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs, he stated, 'We refuse to believe there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.' One of the great economic lessons Dr. King has for us all is this: The road to prosperity requires of us faith, struggle, sacrifice, and investment, particularly for the most vulnerable."

As we are inspired today by MLK's messages of social equality, it is important to remember that economic justice and equality of opportunity were just as significant a part of his life and legacy.

Happy MLK Day.

[photo is in the public domain]

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Hip-Hop and the Law Review: The Year in Review

The previous year has seen a number of articles published on hip-hop in the country's law reviews.  The following is a nearly complete list of those articles that consider hip-hop in any number of forms: case study, methodology, theoretical intervention, etc.  One trend is the continued study of hip-hop's relationship to copyright law.  2012 has seen more focus on hip-hop and copyright law than on hip-hop and other sub-disciplines.  Why?  Perhaps the continued evolution of web-based technologies and the increasing ease of sharing information (Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.) has made issues of copyright law and intellectual property more salient to the average person.  Perhaps the re-appropriation of corporate logos by Occupiers has inspired more inquiry into the ways in which material is used and abused.  No matter the reason, 2013 should see continued work on hip-hop as scholars continue to study the effects of hip-hop on the Arab Spring, further investigate the effects of mass incarceration, become increasingly exposed to students who grew up with hip-hop, and theorize new relationships to the law given our increasingly diverse country. 

In no particular order, here are 2012's hip-hop-related articles:

Andrea M. Ewart with Kimberly R. Villiers, "Dangerous" Dancehall Reggae and Caribbean Treaty Obligations, 27 Connecticut Journal of International Law 321-343 (Spring 2012)

andre douglas pong cummings, Derrick Bell: Godfather Provocateur, 28 Harvard Journal on Racial and Ethnic Justice 51-66 (Spring 2012)

andre douglas pond cummings, Symposium: War on...The Fallout of Declaring War on Social Issues: "All Eyez on Me": America's War on Drugs and the Prison-Industrial Complex, 15 Journal of Gender, Race and Justice 417-448 (Spring 2012)

Vera Golosker, Student Note: the transformative tribute: How Mash-Up Music Constitutes Fair Use of Copyrights, 34 Hastings Communications and Entertainment Law Journal 381-401 (Spring 2012)

Lisa T. Alexander, Hip-Hop and Housing: Revisiting Culture, Urban Space, Power, and Law, 63 Hastings Law Journal 803-866 (March 2012)

Unsigned Student Note, Student Note: Not in Court "Cause I Stole a Beat": The Digital Music Sampling Debate's Discourse on Race and Culture, and the Need for Test Case Litigation, 2012 University of Illinois Journal of Law, Technology & Policy 141-166 (Spring 2012)

Donald F. Tibbs, Symposium: War on...The Fallout of Declaring War on Social Issues: From Black Power to Hip Hop: Discussing Race, Policing, and the Fourth Amendment Through the "War on" Paradigm, 15 Journal of Gender, Race and Justice 47-79 (Winter 2012)

Anna Shapell, Student Note: "Give Me a Beat:" Mixing and Mashing Copyright Law to Encompass Sample-Based Music, 12 Journal of High Technology Law 519-565 (2012)

Kim D. Chanbonpin, Legal Writing: the Remix: Plagiarism and Hip Hop Ethics, 63 Mercer Law Review 597-638 (Winter 2012)

John S. Pelletier, Student Note: Sampling the Circuits: The Case for a New Comprehensive Scheme for Determining Copyright Infringement as a Result of Music Sampling, 89 Washington University Law Review 1161-1202 (2012)

Tracy Reilly, Good Fences Make Good Neighboring Rights: The German Federal Supreme Court Rules on the Digital Sampling of Sound Recordings in Metall auf Metall, 13 Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology 153-209 (Winter 2012)

Caleb Mason, Jay-Z's 99 Problems, Verse 2: A Close Reading with Fourth Amendment Guidance for Cops and Perps, 56 Saint Louis University Law Journal 567-585 (Winter 2012)

Here's to a hip-hop and the law filled new year and more excelleent scholarship. 

-- Nick J. Sciullo

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year

photo courtesy of Katie Rommel Esham/Wikimedia Commons

The Hip Hop Law Blog wishes a happy and healthy 2013 to all of our readers, supporters and commentators.  We look forward to a year where genuine progress is made in connection with ending the War on Drugs, scaling back the prison industrial complex, providing education and employment opportunities for all, each important historical themes of forward-thinking hip hop artists and scholars.