Sticks & Stones Will Break Your Bones (and Rap will send you to jail!)
I started teaching PHI444: Hip Hop, Sex, Gender and Ethical Behavior in 2014 after meeting with MC Lyte (who subsequently joined our Board of Trustees). We discussed a need to really dig into lyrics and discuss issues raised. So at least once a year I have taught the class. I took this spring off because it is additional work and I needed a break. I’m assessing whether or not to teach it in the fall.
But I have tried to use a number of broad issues to address ethics through hip hop: the music industry, messages about masculinity and femininity, homosexuality, Southern influences, and even the relationship between hip hop and strip clubs. I’ve really been fortunate to have some great guest instructors. This past fall people like Angela Yee, Lola Monroe, and the legendary MC Serch dropped knowledge on the class. I found out recently that Trinidad James is willing to visit!
But one of my favorite blocks is spent looking at the ethics involved when hip hop and the law intersect. This past year Meek Mill’s case was national news. More recently, 21 Savage became a target of law enforcement. So I’ve been able to discuss this issue with law professors as well as artists. New Orleans City Council president Jason Williams once gave a great talk, as he was an attorney for Lil Boosie. Uncle Luke discussed issues of free speech.
One semester we were able to chronicle the case of Tiny Doo, a San Diego rapper who got caught up in a political battle where heightened charges were folded into new laws, laws designed to target black men. When class started we were only able to Skype in with his attorney. By the end of the semester he was able to join us! Definitely one of the coolest experiences I’ve had as an instructor. I just learned he’s suing the SDPD- will have to keep watching!
Rapper 'Tiny Doo' and college student arrested under controversial gang law get day in court…
Brandon Duncan, 36, and Aaron Harvey, 29, are suing the San Diego Police Department and two of its gang detectives on…
But one of my new friends is Dr. Erik Nielson at the University of Richmond. He has Skyped in and visited in person, and one of the leaders in helping hip hop artists combat the use of lyrics against them in the legal system. For my class we usually spend 2 weeks on this topic — one week to study the legal issues, and then the next to actually practice using lyrics in a mock court situation, arguing whether or not lyrics should have been used in a case against a rap star.
So this week a group of prominent hip hop artist filed an amicus brief in support of a Pittsburgh rapper who was sent to prison for 2 years for threatening police in a song.
Hip-Hop Artists Give the Supreme Court a Primer on Rap Music
WASHINGTON - Five years ago, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. enlivened a Supreme Court argument by reciting raw and…
The group includes Killer Mike (who has spoken for my class), Chance the Rapper (past commencement speaker), Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Yo Gotti and Fat Joe.
Dr. Nielson played a significant role in developing this brief, as he has done a number of times before. This is an appeal to the Supreme Court to review the conviction. There is a lot in this story, and probably could be a class all by itself. But I would encourage you to watch this case closely.
Killer Mike, 21 Savage file Supreme Court brief over rapper in prison for lyrics
Rap stars Killer Mike, 21 Savage, Meek Mill and others filed a Supreme Court brief asking justices to review the…
Oh. One more thing. Scholars normally sign on as supporters of a brief like this. They hail from USC, Union Theological Seminary, Georgetown, UGA, and the University of Manchester in England.
But only one HBCU was represented, and only one university president.