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Princeton University Scholar Imani Perry Reviews Connections Between Hip Hop and the Law

February 10, 2012

Imani Perry, a professor at Princeton University’s Center for African American Studies and the author of “Prophets of the Hood,” outlined a taxonomy of relationships between law and hip hop during a lecture on Feb. 9.

Intersections between hip hop and the law include questions of policing, imprisonment, copyright, ownership of cultural property, the commodification of women and the sex industry, Perry said.

The billion-dollar hip hop music industry has drawn millions of consumers around the globe, in part through its sensationalism and the frank commentary it offers on the intrusion of market models into political and social orders of all sorts, Perry said.

Performers like Jay Z call pointed attention to this through lyrics like: “I’m not a businessman. I’m a business, man,” Perry observed. “He understands that he’s a commodity.”

This commodification can create legal issues for hip hop artists themselves, Perry added.

“When we see rappers from Lil’ Kim to T.I. etc. imprisoned, we might understand this phenomenon as a casualty of the consumer product of the hip hop artist,” Perry said. “It’s clear that hip hop artists are targeted, often, for surveillance by law enforcement. One question we still have to ask is: What is the logic of that, given the industry demand, it seems, for the person to become the gangsta product?”

Perry’s talk was part of an unprecedented course and lecture series launched this semester by Professor Donald Tibbs in collaboration with Professor andre douglas pond cummings of the West Virginia University College of Law. Students in both professors' classes hear the lectures – presented in Tibbs’ class in Philadelphia – through a video link-up to cummings' classroom in Morgantown, W.Va.