This article queries whether it is possible to teach law students about social justice through a course on hip hop and its connection to and critique of the law. We argue, in these dedicated pages of the North Carolina Central Law Review, that yes, hip hop and the law offer an excellent opportunity to teach law students about social justice. But, why publish an article advocating that national law schools offer a legal education course on Hip Hop and the Law, or more specifically, Hip Hop & the American Constitution? Of what benefit might a course be that explores hip hop lyrics and hip hop artists’ critique of United States law and policy? In an era where bar passage rates are slipping across the nation and law schools are struggling to attract students to their hallways and classrooms, is there space and time in a law school curriculum to offer a class on hip hop and its critique of the law? I argue here that time and space must be created to offer law students an opportunity to embrace hip hop’s critique of the U.S. Constitution and its critique of the laws and policies that have always been developed, since the nation’s founding, from the top down — that is to say, developed from an elite, straight, wealthy white male perspective. Here is why:
Hip hop music and culture have conquered the world. Born in New York City (the Bronx), this quintessential American cultural phenomenon has captured the hearts and minds of two generations of U.S. residents as well as enthusiasts across the globe. This hip hop takeover, né revolution, is so recognized in literature and culture, that it bears no further explanation. Suffice it to say, that today, the U.S. law professoriate is infused with a stirring population of hip hop aficionados. Further, current law students are overwhelmingly individuals that know, love, and are deeply impacted by hip hop music, art, and culture.
Additionally, hip hop music, at its core, offers a provocative critique of United States law, particularly the criminal justice system. This critique, offered from the bottom up — that is to say, from the perspective of those that have been historically oppressed and voiceless — presents a knowing appraisal of how the law as promulgated, practiced, and enforced in the United States harshly impacts and does positive injury to communities of color and people living in poverty in the United States. Today, more than ever, those that teach, enforce, and practice the law should be paying attention to the critique emanating from faces at the bottom of the well, particularly from hip hop faces.
Further, this article seeks to contribute meaningfully to the existing literature and debate that considers and addresses the inclusion of race and inequality within the legal education landscape and law school curriculum.
cummings, andré douglas pond, Teaching Social Justice Through 'Hip Hop and the Law', 42 N.C. Cent. L. Rev. 47 (2019).