The Sovereign Nation of Hip-Hop

By Jonathan A. Gonzalez

The late and great Notorious B.I.G. once rapped: “Remember ‘Rappin’ Duke’? Duh-ha, duh-ha/ You Never thought that hip would take it this far.”  Hip-hop that started in New York’s boroughs has evolved into one of the most influential cultures in the United States and around the world. Hip hop is no longer just a genre, it is a full-on global phenomenon; “Rap music has long been considered a form of resistance against authority. Boosted by the commercialization of the music industry, that message has proven its appeal to youth all around the world. Now, from Shanghai to Nairobi to São Paulo, hip-hop is evolving into a truly global art of communication.”[1]

Every music genre or art carries its own culture; however, hip hop culture is a culture that is unique in many ways. One of the main ways hip hop differentiates itself from other cultures is the amount of inclusivity the culture offers. There are endless pockets of hip hop, each with their subsect along with people who genuinely connect to the artists’ messages; and being under the hip hop umbrella, the culture is commonality connecting people of all different races, genders, and ethnic backgrounds.  In a conversation with the Los Angeles Times, Russel Simmons stated: “Kids in Beverly Hills know what gangs are like. Kids in Arkansas know something of what it’s like to be underprivileged in New York,” and later added, “Hip hop is an absolutely unifying force.”[2]

This is the reason I chose to write this paper, in a time where the Americans are the most divided, hip-hop’s ability to unite is evident. The left versus right rhetoric seems to be at an all-time high, with polarizing stances on both sides. Trump supporters are lumped into the category of racists and liberals are snowflakes. There is no more public discourse on political issues; we live in an era where political ideologies can quickly lead to shouting battles. In certain circles, one may even fall on the social spectrum if one’s “woke” ideologies are not as woke as the next person.  The world seems to have no more room for nuance.

The nuance that the world is missing, is the same nuance that lives and breathes within hip hop.[3] This paper will include the rise of hip hop culture; hip hop’s political influence; and why the intermingling of the two is not only inevitable but a needed force in today’s world.  I give you, The Sovereign Nation of Hip-Hop.

I. The Rise of Hip-Hop

Hip-Hop was born in the gritty Bronx in the 1970s; and what was born was more than just a genre of music, would develop into a living and breathing culture.  By now, everyone should have some sort of idea of what hip hop music is, but many may be wondering; “what is hip hop culture?” Hip-Hop culture encompasses so much, that it can be very difficult to define the culture as just one thing; however, a good way to describe Hip-Hop culture is a community. Hip-Hop, a community made up of members of every color and creed, all over the world, brought together by some aspect or element of Hip-Hop. At its core, hip hop is made up of four different elements; breakdancing, graffiti, rapping, and DJ’ing. But as mentioned before, Hip Hop has come a long way since the 1970s. Today, the elements of Hip-Hop culture are limitless, ever-growing, and extremely influential.  

Hip-Hop culture was for a long time considered a “fad”, but as of 2018, Hip-Hop has surpassed Rock, as the dominant music genre in the United States.[4] Hip hop has become a driving force in both United States and global culture. Today, the sound and style of hip hop have become directly immersed with mainstream movies, television shows, news media, art, and fashion. This immersion ranges from Kendrick Lamar producing and curating the Grammy award-winning soundtrack for Marvel’s “Black Panther”[5]; to Lin Manuel Miranda using hip hop to make the US Constitution relevant and more appealing in “Hamilton.”

 Hip hop’s influence on the popular US and global popular culture has been apparent for quite some time; and despite various media outlets attempting to limit, or Pigeon-hole the genre, hip hop continues to expand.[6] Aspects of hip hop can be found across many different channels of popular culture around the world. Hip-hop has in many ways become a major influence within United States politics. Because of the internet, we can see the effects of hip hop on politics in real-time, however, hip hop artists throughout history have used the platform as a voice for the culture; In 1989, Public Enemy’s song “Fight the Power” tackles the racial tension in New York[7]; Immortal Techniques 2004 song “The Fourth Branch” addresses the power of corporate media; and more recently, in 2016, YG’s protest anthem “FDT” lashes out against Donald Trump and the song is still subject of discussion and controversy today.[8]  

In the past, the “socially conscious” rappers were not the most prominent or commercially successful rappers. Today, Jermaine “J. Cole” Cole and Kendrick Lamar are two of the top three hip hop artists, in terms of records sales, fan appeal, and influence. The two rappers are well known for their politically fueled raps and social messaging. Cole and Kendrick proudly carry the tradition of socially conscious MC’s who seek to empower and educate through their music. J. Cole’s “KOD” and Kendrick’s “Swimming Pools” are platinum-selling[9], commercial records speaking on serious issues facing America. KOD addresses the opioid crisis, while Swimming Pools takes on the dangers of alcoholism. Politically fueled rap has been engraved in wax for almost as long as the genre has existed. Hip hop has been used as a tool to empower, but hip hop’s influence political influence goes beyond what is recorded.

[10] Bernie Sanders with Run The Jewel’s Michael “Killer Mike” Render.

II. Hip Hop and United States Politics

To the uninformed, the correlation between hip hop and politics is nonexistent, speculative, or even conflated.  Despite that perspective, there are many tangible instances were politics and hip hop are one and the same.  For instance, in 2018, when Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms was elected Atlanta’s mayor, Bottoms recruited Clifford “T.I.” Harris and Michael “Killer Mike” Render[11] as part of her transitional team.[12]  Both Render and Harris are top-tier, politically conscious rappers who have been vocal in their opinions and have used their platforms and success to empower Atlanta and other communities. Mayor Bottoms believes it is important to have representation across communities and believes that Harris and Render can “come with fresh ideas and to bring to me their recommendations for best practices in the city of Atlanta based on their varied experience and backgrounds,”[13]

Other instances of Hip Hop’s tangible influence on politics include:  2 Live Crew’s fight for free speech  case[14]; President Trump’s involvement in the release of ASAP Rocky from Swedish prison[15]; and I’d be remised to mention Kanye’s plan to run for presidency in 2024.[16]

 Hip hop and politics for a long time have been intertangled, but not in the most positive of ways; “For a long time, the relationship between hip-hop and politics has been each group talking to each other rather than with each other. In the eyes of politicians, most rappers were viewed as thugs. Through the eyes of hip-hop, politicians were white people out of touch with the realities of what goes on in urban areas.”[17]

This sentiment could not be truer, as many interactions between hip hop and traditional political outlets have been counterproductive.  In response to a performance of Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 single, “Alright”, Fox News’ Gerardo Rivera stated, “hip-hop has done more damage to young African Americans than racism in recent years” when referring to the visuals of Kendrick’s “Alright” BET performance which depicted a police car on fire. Conversely, the song “Alright” is about surviving and overcoming diversity, despite the bleakest of circumstances.  In fact, during a 2016 Black Lives Matter protest in Downtown Los Angeles, protesters grabbed hands in uniformity and chanted the chorus of the song repeatedly: “We gon’ be alright! We gon’ be alright!”[18] Instances such as the one between Kendrick Lamar and Gerardo Rivera are not rare: Political Pundits such as Anne Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, and most recently Tomi Lahren[19], have been very vocal about their criticism and “distaste”[20] of the genre, and meanwhile, hip hop artists of all ages and backgrounds such as Jay-Z, Macklemore[21], and YBN Cordae[22] have not been reluctant to speak their peace on the political climate or comments made by political pundits. Hip-hop and politics have shared a weird, but a symbiotic relationship, political pundits use “negative” aspects of a rapper’s music or lifestyle to broadcast their message, and hip-hop artists use their platforms to spread their political messages and to respond to criticisms. Both generate clicks and stir conversations among the general public. Over time, the relationship between Hip Hop and politics has morphed.

Hip Hop and Modern Media

The relationship between hip hop and politics has evolved past a symbiotic, co-dependent relationship. Just as the hip hop genre has grown, so has hip hop influenced media. The media for a long time has been referred to as “The Fourth Branch[23]” due to the perception that the “media is not a passive reporter of fact, but a powerful actor in the political realm” and the phrase is meant to “emphasize[] the amount of power it wields, but is often used to suggest that the power is not under the control of the people in the same way their elected representatives are.”

Traditional media has had the power to “write the story” of hip hop by broadcasting the stories and headlines they, or corporate media, would like to broadcast.[24] But, thanks to the internet, many other media outlets are rising and flourishing, with hip hop at the center of it all. New York natives Daniel “Desus” Baker and Joel “The Kid Mero” Martinez are the hosts of Showtime’s late-night talk show, “Desus & Mero.”[25] Like the Breakfast Club, “Desus and Mero” is hip hop to its core and has also featured culturally prominent and relevant politicians such as Alexandra Osario-Cortez, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren.

Due to the evolution of media, for the first time, hip hop has found the power to control its narrative, or by very least have a hand in shaping narratives around the culture.  For proof of this, one need look no further than Power 105.1 The Breakfast Club.  The Breakfast Club is a nationally syndicated radio show hosted by Charlamagne Tha God, Angela Yee, and DJ Envy.[26] The show began as a show centered around hip hop has grown into one of the biggest media platforms in the United States.[27] The show erupted online when The Breakfast Club began to record and upload celebrity interviews online. The show finds success due to Charlamagne’s overt, and direct questioning, which often leads to viral moments or interviews. Initially, the show was a standard stop for musicians or actors looking to promote an upcoming project; since then, the show evolved into a platform that features people of interest such as Malcolm Gladwell, Michael Eric Dyson, Cyntoia Brown-Long.  The expansion of The Breakfast Club has pushed the show into strong, political relevance

The self-titled “world’s most dangerous morning show” has become one of the biggest platforms for campaigning politicians. The show has featured the likes of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, etc.  According to NBC News, The Breakfast Club has “emerge[d] as a crucial stop for 2020 Democrats.”[28] Despite the headline, the show is not just limited to Democrats: in an interview with CBS’s Vladimir Duthiers, Charlamagne recanted the idea that the show is reserved for democrats. Charlamagne stated “Here’s the thing, we don’t invite anybody on to our show, these people request to be on our show. . . The Breakfast Club doesn’t even have a talent booker.” And later added “I’m not going to block anybody if Sarah Huckabee Sanders wants to come on the show, I’m not going to block her; if Trump’s sons want to come, I’m not going to block them. [] I’m seeing all of these conservatives and people on the right saying ‘the Breakfast Club never has us on’; [but] let’s not sit here and act like there are a bunch of conservatives knocking on our door, begging to come on the Breakfast Club. We’ve had one that I can remember, we’ve had Bob Huggins, who ran for Governor of New Jersey, he came on . . . like Tomi Lahren was supposed to come on. . . but they pulled the plug after her Daily Show appearance.”  When asked if Charlamagne would just have anybody on, he responded by stating: “probably not, if the person’s rhetoric is dangerous, probably not. But if their ideas are just different than mine, if they lean a little bit more to the right than mine do, I’m not going to stop that.”[29]

The reason the Breakfast Club has been such a prominent and important platform for politician’s public relations is that the show, in many ways, acts as a lie detector test. The show never shies away from controversial topics or issues when interviewing their guests. It’s part of their formula, they are going to ask the hard questions people want to know. When interviewing Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election, Clinton was asked what something was she always keeps in her bag, and Clinton responded, “hot sauce.” Charlamagne was incredibly surprised and quickly replied with an emphatic “Really?” following up with “I just want to let you know, people are going to see this and say she’s pandering to black people.” Clinton responded with a smirk and asked, “is it working?” While Clinton did a good job of “tap-dancing”, this was a rare moment of clarity, shattering the boundary of political correctness. The character of a prominent politician was questioned live on-air and the interview went on to become a viral moment.[30]

In anticipation of the 2019 Democratic primaries, many Democratic nominees have made their stop to the Breakfast Club. In typical Breakfast Club fashion, the guests have been asked controversial or hot topic questions. Some politicians have fared well, while other’s campaigns have taken hits due to their interviews.  The platform is not meant to make anybody look good or bad, but the platform is what you make it; during an interview with MSNBC, the club was asked whether it is a risk for candidates to come on the show, DJ Envy responded by stating “It is a risk. If you’re being fake, it is absolutely, positively a risk.”[31] Some guests can take these questions in stride and use the show as an opportunity, to be honest, and show the nuance of the world. For example, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana and democratic nominee, Pete Buttigieg, was asked what he thought of Chick-Fil-A, a corporation that holds strong Christian values. The Mayor, a member of the LGBTQIA community, responded by stating: “I don’t approve of their politics, but I kind of approve of their chicken.” [32] The Mayor was praised for his nuanced response, but others have not been so lucky.  In a last-ditch effort to remain in the democratic race, Robert “Beto” O’Rourke made a stop on the show on 10/31/19.  Charlemagne asked all the tough questions, including questions surrounding O’Rourke’s stance on gun control and recent low polling numbers. The following day, on 11/1/19, Beto O’Rourke announced he would be dropping out of the Democratic race.[33] Was this a direct response to the interview or a reflection of the culture speaking up?

With the 2020 election on the horizon, The Breakfast Club is one of the top political platforms out in terms of reach. The show has demonstrated it has many listeners and those listeners are hungry for honest and authentic politicians. Similarly, politicians are wary of the power of the culture; during his stop on the show on 04/05/19, democratic nominee, Julian Castro stated “These folks reach so many people out there. . . And today in politics, you can get on all the political shows as much as you want, but that’s not really where the audience is.”[34] Aside from garnering a large viewership, the hip-hop avenues have different perspectives and approaches. 

A article challenges the establishment to allow Joe Budden to moderate the 2020 presidential debates[35]. Joe Budden has a tumultuous rap career but has found a strong voice within hip hop media. Joe boasts the number one podcast on Spotify, “The State of the Culture” series on Revolt TV, and the “Pull Up” YouTube series.  The article claims the retired rapper turned podcaster would be the perfect person to moderate the presidential debates because he asks the tough questions and he will not take “BS” responses: “Budden has become something like rap’s number one sports commentator; he’s Stephen A. Smith of hip-hop.” The article claim, “most members of the media are too hesitant to get deep down in the dirt with The Donald” And Joe Budden is the person with the strength to “get to the heart of the issues.” The writer of the article understands this request is a long shot, however, there is something to be said about hip hop’s will to find the truth. The campaign in 2020 will be about a lot more than foreign policy and hip-hop can help distinguish the facts from the fiction.

The trend of hip hop ran and influenced media is only growing and hip hop has carved its lane in modern media. Hip hop is no longer reliant on traditional media to bolster its message because hip hop has become the messenger, with the ability to control its narrative.  With the rise of these platforms, the revolution may not be televised, but it will be streamed.

Hip Hop: A Force for Good?

Upon a glance, skeptics of hip hop will make the point that when considering the misogynistic and violent messaging in hip hop music, hip hop cannot be a force for good, and conversely, is a force of negativity.  While many may disagree with the perspective, the argument does hold merit; since the inception of hip hop, the genre has contained problematic lyrics and messaging.  Andre “Dr. Dre” Young’s 1992 debut album featured a song titled “Bitches ain’t Shit”, where Calvin “Snoop Dogg” Cordozar sung the hook: “Bitches aint shit but hoes and tricks/ Lick on these nuts and suck on this dick/ Gets the fuck out after you’re done/ Then I hops in my car to make a quick run”[36] Gangster rap and Snoop Dogg, in particular, drew much political attention due to the misogyny. In 1993, civil activist and politician, C. Deloris Tucker, took aim at Snoop Dogg’s debut album “Doggystyle” for its obscene and misogynistic lyrics during a press conference targeting negative messaging in hip-hop: “For thus, images that degrade our dignity and are an insult to our children, our families, and communities concern us too, and that includes all of this gangster rap and misogynistic lyrics and with the release of Snoop Doggy Dogg’s album “Doggystyle” . . . [the album] includes artwork that is nothing but pornographic smut, available to any child to go in and buy with an album and with a record. You want to know why I am on warpath when I saw this [Doggystyle], I said ‘that’s it, we march again.'”[37]

The Trend continues in modern-day: in 2017 Taymor “Tak-K” MacIntyre released a song titled “The Race.” In the song, Tay-K boasts about escaping the law, after Tay-K was accused of murdering Ethan Walker during a home invasion.  Tay-K was a minor when awaiting trial and was sentenced to probation. Tay-K removed his ankle monitor and fled to Arkansas. He then went on to make the viral hit “The Race.” The hook and most well-known part of the song, Tay-K boasts: “Fuck a beat, I was trynna beat the case/ but I ain’t beat the case, bitch I did the race. . . Pop a nigga, then I go out my way/ Do the dash then I go out my way.”  [38]

Negative aspects of life are undeniably present within hip hop and hip-hop culture[39], however, that is only part of the puzzle.  Skeptics will be quick to criticize hip hop for the messaging, but they often do not attempt to encapsulate the entire picture.  Art reflects the culture and similarly, hip hop reflects the neighborhoods it lives within. N.W.A’s gangster rap was a reflection of gang culture and the Los Angeles community’s relationship with the police system. During a debate hosted by Ralph McDaniel’s, rapper Tracy “Ice-T” Morrow defended gangster rap:

You think you understand what hardcore rap is. . .   the only reason I rap like that is because I did not know how to rap any other way, this is the life I’m living. The audience I attracted were the kids who did not listen to anybody else. With an unconventional enemy, it takes unconventional tactics. So, with your tactics and the positiveness that you guys want, that leaves a whole sector of people out in the open, because they’re not going to listen to you, no matter what you say. . .  I talk in their language; I talk in the dialogue of the streets. You would like in a perfect world for things to be different, but they simply aren’t.[40]

Hip hop will likely continue to be criticized for its real-world depiction, however, not much light is ever shed on the positive aspects of hip hop. While some of Snoop Dogg’s lyrics are amongst the most misogynistic, critics choose to ignore what Snoop Dogg has grown into. Snoop Dogg is no longer a though, gangster rapper, rather, he spends his time reinvesting in his community and cooking meals with Martha Stewart. In 2005 Snoop Dogg launched The Snoop Youth Football League (“SYFL”). SYFL’s to “provide youth, regardless of race, color, creed, or economic background the chance to learn the values of character, integrity, discipline, and teamwork through football and cheer; to bring all other communities together through a common interest in sports; to promote fair play and fellowship. . .” [41] Snoop is now an elder statesman in hip-hop, someone who has learned from his mistakes and now uses his platform to empower the young. Similarly, the culture has demonstrated other instances of growth. Fellow west coast rapper Oshea “Ice Cube” started his career as a gritty gangster rapper and transformed into family-friendly actor and is responsible for The Big Three basketball league; and more emphatically, Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Sean “Diddy” Combs went from selling CD’s on street corners to becoming hip-hop’s first billionaires.[42]

Hip hop’s past is riddled with instances of toxic traits; however, the good aspects of hip hop culture far outweighs the negative stigma surrounding the genre and culture. Hip-hop has always found ways to get the best out of a bad situation. A good example is the previously mentioned Jay-Z; On “Izzo”, a single off of “The Blueprint”, Jay-Z raps: “Hov is back, life stories told trough rap/ Niggas acting like I sold you crack/ Like I told you to sell drugs, no, Hov did that/ So hopefully you won’t go through that/ I was raised in the projects, roaches and rats/ Smokers out the back selling their mama’s sofa/ lookouts on the corner focused on the Ave.”[43]

 Jay-Z went from selling crack and being blackballed by the entire music industry, to jump-starting his career and go on to release fourteen number one albums, the most by any solo artist.[44] Jay-Z is revered in the hip hop community and is feared in the business world as Jay-Z’s “steadily growing kingdom is expansive, encompassing liquor, art, real estate (homes in Los Angeles, the Hamptons, Tribeca) and stakes in companies like Uber.”[45] Just as much as Jay-Z has found success, he has also reinvested back into the community. Jay-Z’s philanthropic endeavors are best shown by his reaction to the September 11th attack on the twin towers.  Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint” also released on September 11, 2001; understandably resulting in low first-week sales; however, Jay responded by rescheduling his New York tour dates and donating a portion of every ticket sold to the victims of a 9/11 foundation.[46]

Jay has turned into one of hip hop’s elder statesmen and somewhat of hip hop’s unofficial attorney general. Jay, without request, has stepped in and assisted various artist with legal issues. Team ROC is a subset of Jay’s Roc Nation label; Team Roc centers its efforts on political activism and social justice issues.  Jay-Z’s Team Roc has assisted artists like 21 Savage[47], Lil Wayne, Meek Mill[48], and likely many more behind the scenes. Jay’s legal team does not stop at helping hip-hop artists, as Jay has used his power to help those in need, most notable was the case of Jabari Talbot, the 11-year old who fought freedom of speech case for his refusal to stand for his school’s pledge of allegiance.[49] Jay-Z’s legal team was able to get the case dismissed; on Team Roc tweeted out: “The system tried to force Jabari Talbot into diversion. Jabari did not commit a crime. Guilty plea refused. Case Dismissed. We applaud and support you Jabari.  Jay’s Team ROC is part of a criminal justice reform group and Jay-Z, along with rapper Mario “Yo Gotti” Mims have been involved in dealing with the Mississippi prison system over ‘inhumane and unconstitutional Prison Conditions.[50]” Most recently Team Roc and Yo Gotti wrote a letter to the Governor of Mississippi, Tate Reeves,“ [w]e are imploring you to make this a priority and to shine a spotlight upon a badly deteriorating system, to declare it an emergency and put the full weight of your office and authority to protect basic human rights.”[51]

The culture understands the many misconceptions surrounding the genre and culture; and most recently, they are bringing the fight to the Supreme Court[52]. Roc Nation, Killer Mike, Eric Neilson[53], and a collection of rappers, artists[54], and scholars[55] filed an amicus brief and a “primer of rap music” in support of a Supreme Court free speech case.

Amici are scholars with expertise in rap music, a Grammy Award-winning rap musical artists with first-hand experience creating and performing rap music, experienced music industry figures, and other musical artists and scholars.  Amici seek to put rap music, which is a heavily stigmatized form of expression associated with negative stereotypes and often subject to misinterpretation, in the context of the history and conventions of the genre.  The poetic nature of rap lyrics requires analysis of the multilayered meanings attributable to such lyrics, viewed through the lens of the intended audience.  Amici thus urge the Court to view rap music, through which the alleged threats in this case were purportedly communicated, as not only a form of artistic expression but as political expression that falls well within the scope of activity protected by the First Amendment.[56]  

The amicus brief surrounds the case of Pittsburg rapper Jamal “Mayhem Mal” Knox. Knox was arrested on drug and gun charges in 2012 and Knox later recorded a song titled “Fuck the Police” where he named the arresting police officers. Knox stated “This is a work of poetry, . . . It is not intended to be taken literally, something that a reasonable listener with even a casual knowledge of rap would understand.”[57]  The prosecutor had a different understanding of the song, as the prosecutor charged Knox with intimidating witnesses and issuing terroristic threats. Knox was convicted and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania confirmed his conviction. The conviction was largely influenced by the lyrics of Knox’s song.  Knox filed a petition to seek review to the Supreme Court of the United States stating: “these lyrics were never meant to be read as bare text on page. . . [r]ather they are meant to be heard with music, melody, rhythm, and emotion.”[58] The song mirrors sentiments of the N.W.A song by the same name; N.W.A’s “Fuck the Police “was a response to the increasingly aggressive policing strategies in Los Angeles, N.W.A’s home, but it became an anthem of resistance in communities across the country as police began waging the War on Drugs.”[59]

The state Supreme Court of Pennsylvania disagreed as the Chief Justice Saylor states: “The songs lyrics express hatred towards the Pittsburgh police.” And claimed the song did not include “political, social, or academic commentary, nor are facially satirical or ironic.”[60] There is an obvious dispute as to the meaning and understanding of the song and lyrics. Which is largely the reason why Killer Mike and co. decided to file the amicus brief: “A person unfamiliar with what today is the nation’s most dominant musical genre or one who hears the music through the older auditory lens of  older genres such as jazz, country, and symphony … may interpret a rap song as true threat of violence.” [61]

The “primer on rap music and hip-hop” is intended to educate and give the Supreme Court, whose average age is 66, a lens or guidelines in analyzing hip-hop. The brief asks the court to determine applicable standard to determine “whether and when a statement constitutes a true threat of violence not protected by the First Amendment.”[62]

This case provides an opportunity to definitively resolve the question of whether the only consideration relevant to assess if a threat exceeds the scope of First Amendment protection is whether a subjective intent to threaten is present or, alternatively, whether the pertinent inquiry includes how a reasonable person would interpret the statement. The rap created by petitioner Jamal Knox provides a good vehicle for resolving these issues because the speech in question—taking the form of rap lyrics—not only is political in character, but is a complex form of expression characterized by multi-layered messages, which leads to the possibility of misinterpretation. Indeed, “like the true threats doctrine itself, rap music is complex.

In an interview, Killer Mike refers to the court’s interpretation of rap music as a form of racial profiling due to the creative freedom that is given to other genres, but not to hip-hop. Killer Mike states: “Outlaw country music is given much more poetic license than gangster rap, and I listen to both, . . . And I can tell you that the lyrics are dark and brutal when Johnny Cash describes shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die and when Ice Cube rapped about a drive-by shooting early in his career.”[63] Hip-hop culture has shown to be sentient in many ways, and with this amicus brief, the culture is showing it is strong enough to mount an offensive.

III. Hip Hop: Healing the Divide

Hip-Hop culture is fighting for the rights of the communities that make up the culture. However, the positive influence is bigger than social justice and philanthropic work; hip-hop finds its true power in communicating empowering messages and motivation in an easy to digest medium. The following sections will center on growth through hip-hop, the power and unity of hip-hop, and hip-hop’s rising global influence.

Hip-Hop & Growth

One of the reasons hip-hop is an overall force for good is because the good and the bad are all on the forefront.  All available to be observed, ridiculed, and most importantly, to be learned from.  Understanding the good and the bad of the world can lead to a better understanding of oneself and of others. Hip hop culture often plays out in the public eye, and because of that, we are given various teachable moments. Teachable moments of situations the public may have experienced but are reluctant to speak about or address publicly.  However, when hip hop media catches wind of the headlines, what follows is a discussion. A discussion begins as tabloid talk and transitions into real conversations, between real people, about real issues. Because of these public discussions, the community can see growth in real-time and work out any mental baggage within oneself. Additionally, the community can see how the person of discussion moves past the headline.


One of the best examples of this “real-time” growth is what transpired between Solange Knowles, Jay-Z, and Beyoncé Knowles.  Following the gala and many rumors of Jay-Z cheating on Beyoncé, Solange physically assaulted in Jay-Z in the Gala’s elevator.  The 42-second video of the elevator assault leaked online and was rumored to be fueled by Jay-Z’s affair with Rachel Roy. The tabloids ran with the story and the elevator incident became national news. In response to the incident, the family released a public statement. The family stated:

[T]he most important thing is that our family has worked through it. Jay and Solange each assume their share of responsibility for what has occurred. They both acknowledge their role in this private matter that has played out in the public. They both have apologized to each other and we have moved forward as a united family. . .. At the end of the day, families have problems and we’re no different. We love each other and above all we are family. We’ve put this behind us and hope everyone else will do the same.[65]

The statement alone demonstrated how the family would move forward from the public incident. The letter stated how both parties assumed their share of accountability and demonstrated the importance of family.  However, critics will point out the statement was released to preserve their image in the public eye; and they wouldn’t be incorrect, as all three reputable artists likely understand public relations. What followed the statement is what demonstrated growth and learning. The elevator incident gave birth to three honest, reflective, and critically acclaimed albums; Jay-Z’s “4:44”, Beyonce’s “Lemonade”, and Solange’s “Seat at the Table.” All three artists delivered albums addressing the incident and reflected on their feelings and actions. 

Solange was criticized for her attack on Jay-Z and was even rumored to have been inebriated during the incident. In response to her battles; Solange released “Seat at the Table” on September 30, 2016. Solange described the album as “a project on identity, empowerment, independence, grief, and healing.”[66] In a review of the album by, Judwick Mayard states: “A Seat at the Table. . . [Solange] center[s] on her journey of self-empowerment. In Black culture, the table is the unifier where family comes to talk and share over the bounty of what has been earned that day. Solange extends this seat as an invitation to outsiders to understand the truth of what it is to exist in Black skin and the labors that we take on for survival. The themes that permeate throughout the album – grief, anger, sorrow, power – can relate to anyone, but, here, she uses them to speak directly to Black womanhood and the attacks we face daily.”[67] Solange was able to work through her grief and deliver an album that is indicative of a battle fought by many and uses the album skits as an opportunity to educate through her trials and tribulations. 

While the elevator incident surrounded Solange assault Jay-Z, the real underlying issues underneath it all was Jay’s infidelity.  On April 26, 2014, Beyonce surprised the world when she released a surprise album, “Lemonade.”  The album was released on all streaming platforms and was accompanied by a “visual album” also titled “Lemonade.” Of the three albums, Beyonce’s Lemonade most directly addresses the “Elephant in the Room”; Pitchfork described the album as “render[ing] infidelity and reconciliation with cinematic vividness.” [68] notes Lemonade as “’ a conceptual project based on every woman’s journey of self-knowledge and healing.'” The first half of Lemonade conveys Beyonce’s frustration with Jay’s infidelity and plays with the fact of leaving Jay.  Beyonce leads listeners to believe the album is part of an announcement divorcing Jay.

Overall, Lemonade is an album about empowerment and finding

Jay-Z wasted no time in addressing the skeletons in the closet; on  the intro track “Kill Jay Z” from 2016’s “4:44”, Jay directly addresses the elevator incident: “You egged Solange on/ knowing all along, all you had to say was you was wrong.”[69] Later, in the title track “4:44” Jay open’s the song by addressing his infidelity directly: “I apologize, often womanize/ Took for my child to be born to see through a woman’s eye’s/ Took for these natural twins to believe in miracles/ Took me too long for this song, I don’t deserve you.”[70] Jay later closes the song by reflecting what his behavior could have cost his family; “And if my children knew/ I don’t even know what I would do/ If they aint look at me the same/ I would probably die with all the shame/ ‘You did what with who?’/ What good is a ménage a trois when you have a soul mate?/ ‘You risked that for Blue?’/ If I wasn’t a superhero in your face/ My heart breaks for the day I have explain my mistakes/ And the mask goes away and Santa Clause is fake.”[71]

The remainder of the album discusses many more messages such as financial empowerment and the appreciation of property on “The Story of OJ”; loving oneself on “Smile”, where Jay addresses his mother’s homosexuality and Gloria finally accepting herself; and the importance of family and generational wealth on “Legacy.” A review by states; “[4:44 is] a tell-all document to be hung in the halls of rap about infidelity and outgrowing of friends, the way family shapes us, and the way we carry those burdens into parenthood, and about evolving into more complete versions of ourselves.”[72] 

The elevator incident occurred in 2014; and Lemonade and Seat at the Table both released in 2016, followed by 4:44 in June of 2017.  While the initial apology may be categorized as ‘fluff for the tabloids’, what proceeded from the incident was real-time growth and how to turn the negative events into positive, personal growth. Meanwhile, the culture and the public who are tuned in can learn from the mistakes and the growth of the Carter-Knowles family.

Power of Hip Hop (Unity)

Music has demonstrated its power to connect and unify the public in ways not easily understood. During introductory statements of a lecture titled “Why Music Matters”, The United Nation’s Secretary General, Kofi Annan stated:[73]

“Throughout history, it has celebrated the triumphs and tragedies of life.  As Plato said, music “gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination”.

“Music both shapes and reflects society.  Dancers follow its beat; protesters use it to find their voice.  It can promote ideals — like peace and solidarity — but it can also prepare armies for battle.  It is part of almost every important personal and collective moment.”

“In a world of diversity where often values clash, music leaps across language barriers and unites people of quite different cultural backgrounds.  And so, through music, all peoples can come together to make the world a more harmonious place.”

The unifying force described by Annan lives and breathes within hip hop. After the untimely death of Nipsey Hussle, the hip hop community collectively mourned the passing of the young entrepreneur. Nipsey was mainly known for his music, but those in Los Angeles knew Nipssey as much more than a rapper. Nipsey was well known for his community work[74] and effort to empower low-income areas.  On the day after his death, Nipsey was set to meet with LAPD Chief and Police Commissioner to discuss ways to stop gang violence and improve police relations.[75]

 Just like Nipssey unified the community during his life, he also unifies during his death. Nipsey’s legacy is demonstrated by what he left behind; The Marathon Continues is a mantra Nipsey lived by and is well described as  “commandments of his work ethic and the basis of his restorative, community-first ethos.”[76] Most importantly, Nipsey demonstrated what it looks like for someone from the community use his name, influence, and motivation for the direct improvement of the community. Nipsey personified what it looks like to reinvest in one’s community and provide opportunities for others.  Nipsey Hussle will forever be missed and his messages will far outlive his name. Through Nipsey, one can see how hip hop can unify, because even in his death, and despite his Crip ties, Nipsey was able to bring together all of the gangs of Los Angeles for the sole purpose of commemorating his death.[77] “He brought so many people together — the gangs and the Crips and the Bloods,” said Pitts, of Mid-City. “He was the president of South L.A.”[78]

Hip hop as a unifying force is demonstrated in the career of rapper Lupe Fiasco. Like Nipsey, Lupe Fiasco has, since the beginning of his career, made music to educate and empower. The Chicago bred MC, Lupe Fiasco is best known for his educational approach, intricate wordplay, dense lyrics, political subject matter, and his share of hit-singles. Fiasco initially disliked the genre, attributing his dislike to the genre’s misogyny and vulgarity. However, Lupe realized the power the genre has and how he could use music to shape and influence the masses. In an interview with the A.V. Club, Fiasco stated: “Early on, it was like, ‘Whatever, I don’t like hip-hop.’ And then as I got into it, it went to the back burner. And then when I started making my own music, I was more about recreating what I was hearing. And then it got to the point where I was like ‘Hold on.’ I noticed that I had some control over what I was saying, and the effects that it’s going to have on people. I wanted to focus more on the positive side of things, which are more in tune with my morals and ethics.”

Lupe went on to become one of the forefronts thought leaders in hip hop. Throughout his career Fiasco takes aim at many social issues and offers insight that may be unknown to the common American and presents the information in a digestible and catchy way. Fiasco dares the listener to interpret “terrorism” through a different lens and questions the meaning of American patriotism in the song “American Terrorist”[79]; “Bitch Bad” deconstructs the word “Bitch” by showing the different ways youth come to internalize the word; and  “Deliver” aims the ghetto’s socioeconomic circumstances through the guise of pizza delivery.  

Lupe’s fight to educate, empower, and unify through hip hop is best demonstrated by Lupe’s battles with Atlantic Records.  Lupe Fiasco’s 2011 album, “Lasers”, was held prisoner to Atlantic Records.[80] The studio stated they would not release the album due to the lack of commercial singles. The album’s lead single was “Words I Never Said” featuring the pop songstress, Skylar Gray. Lupe starts off his first verse with: “I really think the war on terror is a bunch of bullshit/ Just a poor excuse for you use up all your bullets/ How much money does it take to really make a full clip?”.  According to Lupe, the album was complete, and had submitted various versions of the album to Atlantic.[81] Eager to release music, Lupe released a 3-song EP titled “Lost in the Atlantic.” Eventually, fans grew restless and they began a petition that garnered over 16,000 signatures.[82] The backlash culminated with a full-fledge fan-protests outside of Atlantic Records. The protests proved beneficial, as Lasers received a release date, and forced Atlantic CEO, Lior Cohen, into a very awkward position as he stormed the protest holding a boom-box and played Lasers for the crowd.

If a fan protest was not crazy enough, circumstances elevated during the lead up to Lupe Fiasco’s 5th studio album, “Tetsuo and Youth.” This was the final album of the record deal between Atlantic and Lupe. In anticipation of the album, Lupe released various radio-friendly, commercial songs. Yet, Lupe again found himself on Atlantic’s shelf. Except for this time, instead of the fans stepping in,  Anonymous “the internet’s Batman” threatened Atlantic over twitter, stating: @AtlanticRecords: If you do not comply, we will launch a direct atac[k] against your website, your associates, and your executives.”[83] Anonymous’ s efforts proved successful since, In less than 24-hours, Atlantic records tweeted out a release date for “Tetsuo and Youth” and released Lupe Fiasco from his obligations to Atlantic. Anonymous followed up by releasing a statement taking responsibility for the announcement. The statement provided in part:

At this time it can be concluded that we have proved our point. We wish that music that is educating the masses to keep being released. We will fight for that. Lupe Fiasco, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Common and others are the moving force of conscious rap. This is music we will fight for. Operation Atlantic, Operation Free Lupe; disengaged. Mission Accomplished. We are Anonymous. Never cease to expect us.[84]

Anonymous alluded to, a point of view against conscious messaging in music, a war on thought. Hip hop is a unifying force not to be reckoned with, and it may seem those in power do not wish for the subculture to strive, even if they stand to benefit from the sales financially. Others say these occurrences are just part of everyday business in the entertainment industry. Atlantic likely did not want to release the albums because they did not have viable commercial singles and feared poor sales.

However, consequently, the argument does not hold. Lasers went on to become Lupe’s most commercially successful album, boasting the platinum/gold singles[85]: Tetsuo and Youth had three lead singles, all who received good fan reception; and the album should have been cleared for release, especially considering the reliability of Lupe’s devout fan base.

Hip hop’s unification goes beyond retaliation or insurance. Sean “Diddy” Combs is acting to empower, educate, and unify through his television network, Revolt TV. The network holds a few conferences a year tilted “REVOLT Summit” where leaders of the hip hop community have conversations on issues and concerns facing the community.[86] During a summit in November 2019, Diddy opens the conference with Long Beach rapper, Vince Staples. Diddy opened the conversation with: There’s one thing that I felt could make a change and an impact, being self-sufficient as a community, working together an as community, loving each other as a community, and right now, that is through the power of hip hop, right now, I’m here because of the power of hip hop. . . and this weekend we are going to share some insight on how we were able to make it and how you will be able to make it.”[87]

The community reinvestment initiative in hip hop is widespread. The record label, Top Dawg Entertainment, holds a yearly, City partnered benefit concert taking place in the middle of the Nickerson Garden Projects in South Central Los Angeles.[88] The event is a toy drive for the underprivileged and underserved; each concertgoer is allowed entry with a donation of an unopened toy.  Additionally, the self-titled “Hip-Hop Historian” Lebron James has opened the “I PROMISE” school concentrating on “hands-on STEM education, with an emphasis on developing problem-solving skills.”[89] The school promises, amongst other things, free college tuition for its graduates. The school is intended for ‘at-risk’ youth and provides resources they would not otherwise have.

The unifying power of hip hop is unique in many ways and has shown to be a force to be reckoned with. Hip-Hops growing popularity has allowed its influence in culture and politics to extend beyond borders; the next section will show the rising influence of hip-hop culture around the world and conveys hip hop’s relationship to other countries’ political systems.


The Hip Hop Umbrella: Rising Global Influence

Aubrey “Drake” Graham is the most commercially successful non-American hip hop artist; however, the Canadian rapper is still part of the domestic market.  Outside of the domestic market, sits Michael “Stormzy” Omari, the United Kingdom’s pride & joy. Stormzy busted on the British underground grime scene in 2014 and since then has transcended into a star, and is currently on a promo tour in the United States for his latest album “H.I.T.H.”  Stormzy is featured as part of Time magazine’s “Next Generation Leaders.” The article addresses the importance of Stormzy and the grime movement in general: [91]

[Stormzy] is one of Britain’s most successful musicians and an ambassador for grime, a genre of music that emerged from the streets of multicultural London in the early 2000s and that is characterized by frenetic urgency. In 2017, an academic from the University of Westminster said it was on track to be ‘as disruptive and powerful as punk.’ The genre’s most famous songs hurtle by at 140 beats per minute, as much electronic music as hip-hop.

Stormzy’s rise to fame has been almost as lightning-fast. In the past two years, he has stacked up awards, enjoyed a No. 1 album, and in June became the first-ever British rapper to headline Glastonbury, one of the world’s largest music festivals.”

Headlining Glastonbury has shown to be one of Stormzy’s most important accomplishments. Not only because of the size and prestige of the historic music festival but rather because of the way his show was executed. Stormzy, and the grime culture in general, has been very active in addressing political issues facing the UK. The outspoken Stormzy has criticized Theresa May, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, for her perceived inaction during the Grenfell Tower fire[92]; Stormzy has endorsed Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party, stating Corbyn is “the first man in a position of power who is committed to giving the power back to the people.”[93] But Stormzy’s political direction is best illustrated during his 2019 Glastonbury performance.

Stormzy enters the sold-out Glastonbury stage wearing a Kevlar vest depicting the United Kingdom flag.  The creator of the vest is none other than the legendary, politically driven, and iconic, street artist, Banksy. The anonymous street artist is best known for his political and social commentary in art pieces found all over the globe.  Banksy has been spreading social consciousness and awareness through his art and continued this tradition by creating the Kevlar vest for Stormzy. Banksy marked an ally and linked the two in a fight for the people. This act of union is one that is understood and appreciated by Stormzy: “For the first time ever in my life, maybe in my career, I’ve achieved something and it’s given me perfect peace.”[94] Stormzy also refers to this blessing as a responsibility on “Audacity”, a single from 2019’s “H.I.T.H”: “When Banksy put the vest on me, it felt like God was testing me”. [95]

Stormzy’s career is just getting started and the UK rap scene has been reinvigorated. Stormzy leads the UK conscious rap and he shows no signs of slowing down: “The more I become self-aware, it’s like we can’t shy away from [politics]. Especially being an artist who has a platform.”[96] Time magazine closes its article with “It is clear that he intends to rise with his class, rather than out of it. “Being so championed by my community, I feel like everyone’s put me on this pedestal and, like, everyone’s put me on top of the world … I know it’s my purpose to just shine a light where I can, do something where I can, just whatever I can, in whatever way, shape or form.”[97]  In the same way, grime and American hip hop culture rose from the concrete, other countries are witnessing their own flavor of hip-hop culture. Countries like Brazil, Germany, France, Australia, India, etc. Even China had a rising hip hop culture, that was until the communist party decided to outlaw hip hop.

A 2018 Time magazine article titled “Tasteless, Vulgar, and Obscene.”[98] “China Just Banned Hip-Hop Culture and Tattoos from television.  China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television of the People’s Republic of China (SAPPRFT) “‘ specifically requires that programs should not feature actors with tattoos [or depict] hip hop culture, sub-culture (non-mainstream culture) and dispirited culture (decadent culture).”[99] Several Chinese hip artist such The director of SAPPRFT, Gao Changli, specifically outlined the rules related to hip hop culture:

Absolutely do not use actors whose heart and morality are not aligned with the party and whose morality is not noble
Absolutely do not use actors who are tasteless, vulgar and obscene
Absolutely do not use actors whose ideological level is low and have no class
Absolutely do not use actors with stains, scandals and problematic moral integrity[100]

The Chinese ban on hip hop culture is alleged to be part of a long-standing communist campaign to control hip hop’s influence on the young and to prevent hip hop from becoming a mode in political resistance. In 2014, the communist party’s leader, Xi-xi ping stated: “Imported artforms such hip hop should only be adopted if the masses approve and if the foreign artform has healthy progressive content.”[101]

As part of a hip-hop editorial series The Breakdown, Justine Hunte analyzed the ban on hip hop and offered thoughtful commentary on hip hop’s evolutionary cycle and how the evolutionary cycle has played out in China.[102]

“Hip hop is getting slammed for its real-world depiction isn’t anything groundbreaking, rather its representation of the hip-hop evolutionary cycle in every country.  

Think about this: Rap music shows up, all the kids love it, all the adults hate it, everyone dukes it out until the kids become adults and sell [hip hop] to the corporations. And what we are seeing in China is the communist party recognition of the fact that hip hop is having an influence on its youth and will continue to in the future. And it’s more than just vulgarity. Hip-hop has a political lean to it, a revolutionary lean to it. It is protest music which no regime needs percolating in its underbelly.”

The ban of hip hop in China is very similar to hip hop’s fight for free speech in the United States in Luke Records v. Navarro.[103]  The case arose when Broward County Sheriff department in Florida took action to stop the sale of 2 Live Crew’s album “Nasty as They Want to Be” due to obscene and vulgar lyrics. The trial court found the album to be obscene, but the appellate court determined music has serious artistic value and does not rise to the level of obscene. The Supreme court refused to grant any further review.[104] In reflecting on China’s policy, HipHopDX’s Justin Hunte state’s: “nevertheless, none of this strikes me as relatively new or relatively surprising, hip hop has weathered attacks from all sorts of political figures for decades in America and around the world, and still fights those battles to this day.”

[1] Chang, Jeff. “It’s a Hip-Hop World.” Foreign Policy, 12 Oct. 2009,

[2] Romero, James D. “Influence of Hip-Hop Resonates Worldwide.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 14 Mar. 1997,


[3] Lucas, Joyner. “I’m Not Racist.” YouTube, YouTube, 28 Nov. 2017, (Joyner Lucas breaks down and illustrates the disconnect facing America by rapping from the perspective of a staunch MAGA supporter and young-black man.)


[4] Ryan, Patrick. “Rap Overtakes Rock as the Most Popular Genre among Music Fans. Here’s Why.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 4 Jan. 2018,

[5] “Black Panther.” Box Office Mojo, 2018, (Black Panther has grossed over 1.3 billion dollars in the global box office and The Black Panther Soundtrack received both a Grammy and Academy Award.)

[6] Lang, George. “Hip-Hop: The Fad Has Not Faded.”, Oklahoman, 12 May 2000,


[7] Grow, Kory. “Lights, Camera, Revolution: How Public Enemy Made ‘Fight the Power’.” Rolling Stone, 25 June 2018,


[8] Strauss, Matthew. “Watch YG Bring Out Stormy Daniels for ‘Fuck Donald Trump’ at Camp Flog Gnaw 2019.” Pitchfork, Pitchfork, 11 Nov. 2019,


[9] “RIAA Gold & Platinum: About the Awards.” RIAA, 2020, (The RIAA certifies a song or album with over 1,000,000 sales as “platinum”)


[10] Watson, Elijah. “Bernie Sanders Says Killer Mike’s Name ‘Got Me A Little Bit Nervous.’” Okayplayer, 23 Nov. 2016,


[11] (Michael Render (“Killer Mike”) is a Grammyaward winning rapper, community activist, and

highly regarded author and public speaker who lectures on a wide range of issues, particularly those related to race, social inequality, and police brutality. His father was an Atlanta police officer.)

[12] A., Aron. “T.I. & Killer Mike Among Members Of Atlanta Mayor’s Transition Team.” HotNewHipHop, HotNewHipHop, 12 Jan. 2018, See Also:  Fox. “Rapper T.I. among Members of Atlanta Mayor’s Full Transition Team.” FOX 5 Atlanta, FOX 5 Atlanta, 12 Jan. 2018,


[13] Id.

[14] Luke Records, Inc. v. Navarro, 960 F.2d 134 (11th Cir. 1992)

[15] D’Zurilla, Christie. “Rapper ASAP Rocky Becomes an Unlikely Star of Impeachment” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 20 Nov. 2019,


[16] Segarra, Lisa Marie. “Kanye West Pushes Back White House Bid, Says He’ll Run for President in 2024.” Fortune, Fortune, 1 Sept. 2018,


[17] Patton, Justin. “The Relationship Between Hip-Hop And Politics.” Medium, Medium, 8 Nov. 2018,


[18] “BlackLivesMatter – We Gonna Be Alright DTLA Protest 7-7-2016.” YouTube, YouTube, 2016,


[19] XXL. “Tomi Lahren’s Bad Relationship With Hip-Hop.” YouTube, YouTube, 2019, (XXL Magazine covers Lahren’s various dealings with hip-hop artists)


[20] Krzaczek, Katie. “Tomi Lahren Rapped Along to 21 Savage’s ‘Bank Account’ & The Response Is, Well, Savage.” Billboard, 16 Jan. 2018, (The Billboard article addresses Lahren’s hypocritical relationship with hip hop; including a quote from Lahren’s former employer: “she constantly attacks the culture but loves the music.”)


[21] Cornish, Audie. “’This Song Is Uncomfortable’: Macklemore And Jamila Woods On ‘White Privilege’.” NPR, NPR, 29 Jan. 2016, (Rapper Macklemore addresses white privilege in the song “White Privilege II” and discusses the motives during an interview with NPR.)


[22] BET. “H.E.R & YBN Cordae Perform an Eye Opening & Evocative ‘Lord Is Coming’ | BET Awards 2019.” YouTube, YouTube, 2019,


[23] “The 4th Estate as the 4th Branch.”, (“The “4th branch of government” is a phrase that appears to have first surfaced among critics of FDR’s New Deal in the 1930s. It referred not to the press, but to the collection of new Federal regulatory agencies with top officials appointed by the Executive Branch. Their function was quasi-judicial, and they were not directly accountable to the people.”)


[24] Krassenstein, Brian. “Trump Suggests the US May Start a State-Run Media Organization.”, 26 Nov. 2018,


[25] Thorne, Will. “’ Desus & Mero’ Renewed for Season 2 at Showtime.” Variety, 21 Nov. 2019,


[26] Orr, Niela. “Why You Should Put Some Respek On The Breakfast Club’s Name.” BuzzFeed News, BuzzFeed News, 15 June 2017, (In addition to national syndication, The Breakfast Club is broadcasted on Revolt TV and streamed on the show’s YouTube channel.)

[27] Radford, Morgan, and Aaron Franco. “’Breakfast Club’ Radio Show Emerges as Crucial Stop for 2020 Democrats.”, NBCUniversal News Group, 7 Apr. 2019, (“[The Breakfast Club] each more than 8 million monthly listeners and have more than 3.5 million subscribers on YouTube. This year, they’ve hosted almost a third of the Democratic field, including Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Sen. Kamala Harris.”)

[28] Id.

[29] Id.

[30] Nicks, Denver. “Hillary Clinton Keeps This Hot Sauce in Her Bag.” Time, Time, 19 Apr. 2016,

[31]         Radford, Morgan, and Aaron Franco. “’Breakfast Club’ Radio Show Emerges as Crucial Stop for 2020 Democrats.”, NBCUniversal News Group, 7 Apr. 2019,

[32] Murdock, Jason. “Pete Buttigieg on Chick-Fil-A: ‘I Do Not Approve of Their Politics. I Kind of Approve of Their Chicken.’” Newsweek, Newsweek, 10 Apr. 2019,


[33] Siders, David. “Beto O’Rourke Drops out of 2020 Race.” POLITICO, 1 Nov. 2019, 9:59 p.m., See Also: Power 105.1 FM, Breakfast Club. “Beto O’Rourke Discusses Gun Control, Reparations , Polling Issues + More.” YouTube, YouTube, 31 Oct. 2019,



[34] Radford, Morgan, and Aaron Franco. “’Breakfast Club’ Radio Show Emerges as Crucial Stop for 2020 Democrats.”, NBCUniversal News Group, 7 Apr. 2019,

[35] Landry, Drew. “Joe Budden Must Moderate the 2020 Presidential Debates.” DJBooth, 22 Apr. 2019,


[36] “Dr. Dre (Ft. Tha Dogg Pound, Jewell & Snoop Dogg) – Bitches Ain’t Shit.” Genius, 15 Dec. 1992, See Also: “YG (Ft. Nipsey Hussle & Tyga) – Bitches Ain’t Shit.” Genius, 19 Apr. 2011,


[37] “C Deloris Tucker Crusader Against Gangsta Rap 1993 – A Moment in Black History.” YouTube, YouTube, 2013,


[38]Coscarelli, Joe. “Tay-K, Rapper Who Went Viral With ‘The Race,’ Is Found Guilty of Murder.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 July 2019, (Ultimately, Tay-K paid for his actions when he was sentenced to 55 years in prison for murder.)

[39] Savage, Mark. “R. Kelly: The History of Allegations against Him.” BBC News, BBC, 6 Aug. 2019, See Also: Witt, Stephen. “Tekashi 69: The Rise and Fall of a Hip-Hop Supervillain.” Rolling Stone, 5 Apr. 2019,



[40] Hunte, Justin. “BANNED IN CHINA… The WAR ON HIP HOP CONTINUES.” YouTube, YouTube, 3 Feb. 2018,


[41] “About Us – SYFL: Snoop Youth Football League.” SYFL | Snoop Youth Football League, 5 Aug. 2016,


[42] Greenburg, Zack O’Malley. “Hip-Hop’s Next Billionaires: Richest Rappers 2019.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 17 June 2019,


[43] “JAY-Z – Izzo (H.O.V.A.).” Genius, 11 Sept. 2001,


[44] Kreps, Daniel. “On the Charts: Jay-Z Claims 14th Number One LP With ‘4:44’.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 25 June 2018, (Second only to “The Beatles” with 19 number one albums.)


[45] Greenburg, Zack O’Malley. “Artist, Icon, Billionaire: How Jay-Z Created His $1 Billion Fortune.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 3 June 2019,


[46] Aquilante, Dan. “Jay-Z ‘Answers The Call’ on 9/11.” New York Post, New York Post, 12 Sept. 2009,


[47] Minsker, Evan. “JAY-Z Hires Attorney to Help 21 Savage, Calls ICE Arrest ‘an Absolute Travesty.’” Pitchfork, Pitchfork, 7 Feb. 2019,


[48] Leight, Elias. “Jay-Z, Meek Mill Launch ‘The Avengers’ of Criminal Justice Reform Organizations.” Rolling Stone, 24 Jan. 2019, (“Reform Alliance, [is] a new initiative dedicated to changing the ‘illogical laws that make no sense,’ but rule the lives of the estimated 4.5 million Americans currently on parole or probation. Mill and Rubin announced the formation of the organization on Wednesday with other wealthy business and/or sports-team owners, including Jay-Z, Robert Kraft, Clara Wu Tsai, Daniel Loeb, and Michael Novo. . .”)


[49] Carter, Terry. “How Roc Nation Helped an 11-Year-Old Get His Pledge of Allegiance Case Dismissed.” REVOLT, REVOLT, 6 Mar. 2019,


[50] Id.

[51] Kendall, Tyler. “Yo Gotti and Team Roc Pen Letter to Mississippi Governor: Prison Conditions ‘Growing More Dire by the Moment.’” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 22 Jan. 2020,



[53] Id. at 1 (Erik Nielson is Associate Professor of Liberal Arts at the University of Richmond, where his research and teaching focus on hip hop culture and African American literature. He has published widely on African American music and poetry, with a particular emphasis on rap music, and has served as an expert witness or consultant in dozens of criminal cases involving rap music as evidence. He is coeditor of The Hip Hop & Obama Reader and coauthor of the [] book Rap on Trial.)

[54] Id. at 1. (Additional amici include musical artists Chancelor Bennett (“Chance the Rapper”), Robert Rihmeek Williams (“Meek Mill”), Mario Mims (“Yo Gotti”), Joseph Antonio Cartagena (“Fat Joe”), Donnie Lewis (“Mad Skillz”), Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph (“21 Savage”), Jasiri Oronde Smith (“JasiriX”), David Styles (“Styles P”), Simon Tam (memberof The Slants and petitioner in Matal v. Tam, 137 S. Ct. 1744 (2017)), and Luther R. Campbell (member of 2 Live Crew and petitioner in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569 (1994)), as well as music

industry representatives Alan Light (former Editorin-Chief, Vibe and Spin magazines), Dina LaPolt, Patrick Corcoran, Peter Lewit, and the entertainment company Roc Nation, LLC.)


[55] Id. at 1 (Further amici include scholars Michelle Alexander (Union Theological Seminary), Jody D.cArmour (University of Southern California Gould School of Law), Paul Butler (Georgetown Law), Andrea L. Dennis (University of Georgia School of Law), Murray Forman (Northeastern University), Kyra Gaunt (University at Albany, SUNY), Lily E. Hirsch (California State University, Bakersfield), Robin D.G. Kelley (UCLA), Walter Kimbrough (Dillard University), Rev. Emmett G. Price, III, (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), and Eithne Quinn (The University of Manchester).)


[56] Id.

[57] Liptak, Adam. “Hip-Hop Artists Give the Supreme Court a Primer on Rap Music.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 6 Mar. 2019,

[58] Id.


[60] Id.

[61] Id. at 1.

[62] Id at 3.

[63] Liptak, Adam. “Hip-Hop Artists Give the Supreme Court a Primer on Rap Music.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 6 Mar. 2019,

[64] “Report: Beyonce’s Sister Solange Knowles Attacked Jay Z in Elevator.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 2016,


[65] Gordon, Jeremy. “Beyoncé, Jay Z, Solange Issue Statement Regarding Elevator Fight.” Pitchfork, Pitchfork, 15 May 2014,


[66] “A Seat at the Table by Solange.” Genius, 2016,


[67] Id.

[68] Mapes, Jillian. “Beyoncé: Lemonade.” Pitchfork, Pitchfork, 26 Apr. 2016,


[69] “JAY-Z – Kill Jay Z.” Genius, 30 June 2017,


[70] “JAY-Z – 4:44.” Genius, 30 June 2017,


[71] Id.

[72] Pearce, Sheldon. “JAY-Z: 4:44.” Pitchfork, Pitchfork, 5 July 2017,




[74] Callieahlgrim, Ahlgrim. “Nipsey Hussle Used the Money He Made from Rapping to Give Back and Invest in His Hometown: ‘Growing up as a Kid, I Was Looking for Somebody That Cared’.” INSIDER, 1 Apr. 2019, (“Marathon Clothing, Hussle had opened a fish market, a barbershop, a burger joint, and launched a combination co-working space and STEM center in the low-income Crenshaw district. He was also known to buy shoes for elementary school students in Hyde Park, repave basketball courts, renovated playgrounds, provide jobs for the homeless, and fund funerals for local families and victims of gun violence.”)

[75] Id.

[76] Pearce, Sheldon. “Nipsey Hussle’s Legacy Is Bigger Than Rap.” Pitchfork, Pitchfork, 1 Apr. 2019,


[77] Santa Cruz, Nicole, and Cindy Chang. “Nipsey Hussle’s Death Unified Crips and Bloods in Grief. Now, Peace Talks Carry on His Call.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 23 June 2019,


[78] Id.

[79] (Lupe intends to show that terrorism is not exclusive to Islam or other eastern religions. Lupe does this by shedding light on the survivalist group “The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord.” The group was based in Arkansas, and in 1982, the group acquired 30 gallons of potassium cyanide with the intent of poisoning the water supplies of New York, Chicago, and Washington D.C. prior to F.B.I intervention. Lupe raps on “American Terrorist”; “Now if a Muslim woman strapped with a bomb on a bus/ With Seconds running, give you jitters/Just imagine an American-based Christian organization/ Planning to poison water supplies to bring/ the second coming quicker.)

[80] Anas, Marielle. “Exclusive Video: Lupe Fiasco Fans Protest Outside Label Office.” Rolling Stone, 25 June 2018,


[81] Coplan, Chris. “Lupe Fiasco’s Delayed Album Receives Petition from Frustrated Fans.” Consequence of Sound, 16 Jan. 2014,


[82] Id.

[83] Gilbert, David. “#Anonymous Forces @AtlanticRecords to Release @LupeFiasco\’s #TetsuoAndYouth Album @TheAnonMessage.” International Business Times UK, 16 Oct. 2014,




[85] Caulfield, Keith. “Lupe Fiasco’s ‘Lasers’ Lands at No. 1 on Billboard 200.” Billboard, Billboard, 14 Jan. 2013,


[86] Ju, Shirley. “5 Highlights from Day One of the REVOLT Summit in Los Angeles.” REVOLT, REVOLT, 26 Oct. 2019,


[87] Id.

[88] Keller, Bertram. “Kendrick Lamar, Chris Brown & More Spread Holiday Cheer at TDE’s Annual Free Concert + Toy Drive Giveaway.” Los Angeles Sentinel, 2 Jan. 2020,


[89] Green, Erica L. “LeBron James Opened a School That Was Considered an Experiment. It’s Showing Promise.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 Apr. 2019,


[90] Hitti, Natashah. “Banksy Designs Stab-Proof Vest for Stormzy’s Glastonbury Set.” Dezeen, Dezeen, 4 July 2019,


[91] Eddo-Lodge, Reni. “’It’s My Purpose to Shine a Light Where I Can.’ How Rapper Stormzy Is Championing Black British Culture.” Time, Time, 10 Oct. 2019,


[92] Beaumont-Thomas, Ben. “Stormzy Asks ‘Theresa May, Where’s the Money for Grenfell?’ at Brit Awards.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 21 Feb. 2018,


[93] Aubrey, Elizabeth. “Stormzy Pledges His Support for Jeremy Corbyn: ‘He Is the First Man in a Position of Power Who Is Committed to Giving the Power Back’: NME.” NME Music News, Reviews, Videos, Galleries, Tickets and Blogs | NME.COM, 2 Dec. 2019,


[94] Eddo-Lodge, Reni. “’It’s My Purpose to Shine a Light Where I Can.’ How Rapper Stormzy Is Championing Black British Culture.” Time, Time, 10 Oct. 2019,

[95] “Stormzy (Ft. Headie One) – Audacity.” Genius, 11 Dec. 2019,


[96] Eddo-Lodge, Reni. “’It’s My Purpose to Shine a Light Where I Can.’ How Rapper Stormzy Is Championing Black British Culture.” Time, Time, 10 Oct. 2019,

[97] Id.

[98] Quackenbush, Casey, and Aria Chen. “China Bans Hip-Hop Culture and Tattoos From TV.” Time, Time, 22 Jan. 2018,


[99] Id.

[100] Id.

[101] Kitt, Frances. “Off Beat: China’s Hip-Hop Ban.” Lowy Institute, The Interpreter, 1 Feb. 2018,


[102] Hunte, Justin. “BANNED IN CHINA… The WAR ON HIP HOP CONTINUES.” YouTube, YouTube, 3 Feb. 2018,

[103] Luke Records, Inc. v. Navarro, 960 F.2d 134 (11th Cir. 1992)

[104] Id.

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