The year 2020 was one of extreme highs and lows for rapper Megan Thee Stallion. Her song “Savage” topped the charts and she performed on an episode of “Saturday Night Live” hosted by Chris Rock. In contrast, she’s in a nasty legal battle with her record label, 1501 Entertainment.
When Megan was 19, she signed a 360 deal with 1501, meaning the label is entitled to a percentage of anything she does, from music to endorsements. However, Megan claims she didn’t understand what she was signing at the time. Things came to a head last year when the label tried to prevent her from releasing music. Megan took to Instagram to express her frustration, pleading with the label to release her. Fans joined her, showing support by posting the hashtag #FreeMegan. The case is headed to court later this year.
In Georgia State University’s new Hip-Hop and the Law course, students discuss cases such as this one and the many ways in which hip-hop artists interact with the legal system.
Professor Mo Ivory in the College of Law and professor Lakeyta Bonnette-Bailey in the College of Arts & Sciences are co-teaching Hip-Hop and the Law to undergraduate and law students. Throughout the semester, students have the chance to delve into the intersection of hip-hop and various legal areas, including intellectual property, capital punishment and immigration. Each week, they review critical moments in hip-hop’s legal and political history, such as the release of NWA’s “F*** the Police” in 1988, as well as timely screenings of series such as “Free Meek.”
“Art is political and music culture can help in the fight against injustice, if nothing else but to provide information to others about the issues of marginalized communities,” said Bonnette-Bailey. “Hip-hop is a marginalized community. What are some of the issues of those who are often voiceless, and how are they using culture and alternative means to make their voices heard?”
Ivory and Bonnette-Bailey are students of hip-hop culture and share a love of the 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 as an entertainment attorney for 15 years and consults with political campaigns on support from hip-hop artists engaging in political activism.
Bonnette-Bailey is a hip-hop scholar whose research looks at how hip-hop affects political attitudes and behavior. She’s especially interested in how hip-hop has impacted criminal justice reform and the Black Lives Matter Movement—something she spoke about on an episode of the College of Arts & Sciences podcast. She’d wanted to teach a hip-hop and the law class for years, and when she saw what Ivory was doing in the “Legal Life of…” courses, she thought there might be synergy.
“The first hip-hop song I memorized was Tupac Shakur’s ‘Brenda’s Got A Baby,’” recalled Bonnette-Bailey. “There are so many policies and laws implied in the song such as welfare recipients, incest and reproductive rights.”
In class, Bonnette-Bailey provides historical and political context on the content of rap lyrics while Ivory lays out the legal arguments and challenges hip-hop artists face navigating American jurisprudence. Their shared goal is to examine the ways policies have been used against hip-hop audiences and performers as well as the ways liberties have been used to protect hip-hop culture.
Ivory says she wants students to know that hip-hop music influences mainstream economics and culture, not just African American culture.
“If students intend to practice in the area of entertainment law, aspire to be an artist, sports agent or business manager, this course teaches the relationship between hip-hop culture and all of those industries,” said Ivory. “My students will walk away knowing hip-hop culture is not just downloading rap music from iTunes.”
Written by Kelundra Smith