The year 2020 was one of the extreme highs and lows for rapper Megan Thee Stallion. Her song “Savage” topped the charts and she appeared on an episode of “Saturday Night Live” hosted by Chris Rock. In contrast, she is in a dire legal battle with her record label 1501 Entertainment.
When Megan was 19, she signed a 360-degree contract with 1501, which means the label is entitled to a percentage of everything she does from music to endorsements. However, Megan claims she did not understand what she was signing at the time. It came to a head last year when the label tried to prevent them from releasing music. Megan took to Instagram to express her frustration and asked the label to release her. Fans joined her and showed support by posting the hashtag #FreeMegan. The case will be brought to court later this year.
In Georgia State University’s new Hip-Hop and Law course, students discuss cases like this and the many ways hip-hop artists interact with the legal system.
Professor Mo Ivory from the College of Law and Professor Lakeyta Bonnette-Bailey from the College of Arts & Sciences jointly teach hip-hop and law to undergraduate and graduate students. Throughout the semester, students have the opportunity to grapple with the interface between hip-hop and various areas of law such as intellectual property, the death penalty and immigration. Each week they review critical moments in hip-hop’s legal and political history, such as the 1988 release of NWA’s “F *** the Police” and timely screenings of series such as “Free Meek”.
“Art is political and musical culture can help fight injustice, if only to educate others about the problems of marginalized communities,” said Bonnette-Bailey. “Hip-hop is a marginalized community. What are some of the problems faced by people who are often voiceless, and how do they use culture and alternative means to get their voices heard? “
Ivory and Bonnette-Bailey are hip-hop culture students and share a love for music.
Ivory, who grew up in the Bronx during the birth of rap music, is the director of the College of Law’s entertainment, sports and media law initiative. She represented many hip-hop artists for 15 years as a consumer electronics attorney and advises on political campaigns in support of hip-hop artists who engage in political activism.
Bonnette-Bailey is a hip-hop scholar whose research examines how hip-hop influences political attitudes and behavior. She is particularly interested in how hip-hop affected criminal justice reform and the Black Lives Matter movement – something she talked about on an episode of the College of Arts & Sciences podcast. She had wanted to teach hip-hop and law for years, and when she saw what Ivory was doing in the Legal Life of … classes, she thought there might be synergies.
“The first hip-hop song I memorized was Tupac Shakur’s ‘Brenda’s Got A Baby,'” recalls Bonnette-Bailey. “There are so many policies and laws that are in the song like welfare recipients, incest, and reproductive rights.”
In class, Bonnette-Bailey provides historical and political context to the content of rap lyrics, while Ivory outlines the legal arguments and challenges hip-hop artists face as they navigate American law. Their common goal is to examine how policies have been applied against hip hop audiences and performers, and how freedoms have been used to protect hip hop culture.
Ivory wants students to know that hip hop music affects the mainstream economy and culture, not just African American culture.
“If students are planning to practice in entertainment law, become an artist, sports agent, or business manager, this course will teach the relationship between hip-hop culture and all of these industries,” said Ivory. “My students will go away knowing that hip-hop culture doesn’t just download rap music from iTunes.”
Written by Kelundra Smith