Legendary hip-hop artist and Public Enemy founder Chuck D presented his thoughts on “Rap, Race, Reality and Technology” at the law school on April 12. D was the final keynote speaker for the law school’s groundbreaking course and lecture series on hip-hop and the American Constitution launched by Professor Donald Tibbs.
At its inception, hip-hop as an art form welled up from the streets, reflecting a national statement of activism from a demographic seeking change, D said. DJs collaborated with MCs to get their message to the masses, performing at dance parties, clubs or live shows, D recalled. At that time, the artist controlled the art form, D claimed. Recording and selling records were an afterthought, D said, simply a means to distribute a new sound to the masses.
Today, however, that dynamic has changed, D argued. Individualism has nearly destroyed the genre, he claimed. Fueled by consumerism, the record industry has dismantled the innovative and prolific hip-hop groups that once defined the genre and replaced them with products to be marketed to the masses. While some groups, such as the Beastie Boys, still remain as a testament to the art form, the industry has largely transformed from a “craft to a hustle,” with substance being replaced by an attractive façade designed to turn a profit, D said.
D claimed there is a lesson to be learned from the dilution of the hip-hop genre, urging students not to dilute themselves. Just as record corporations try to puppet emerging hip-hop artists, cell phones have become the human remote, he stated. D explained that that technology has allowed society to shirk its intellectual responsibilities. However, D implored the students to “be smarter than [their] smartphones” claiming that it is incumbent upon aspiring lawyers “to actually know something” rather than relying on technology to project an illusion of competency.
Technology does not have to be an intellectual crutch, D said. Rather than using it to isolate and detach ourselves, it could, as hip-hop did at its inception, be used to reach out to the planet, spread and connect to other cultures and ideas, D concluded.
The course and lecture series included presentations by scholars from a variety of leading law schools and universities:
Professor Bret Asbury, Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University,
Professor André Douglas Pond Cummings, West Virginia University College of Law,
Professor Paul Butler, George Washington University Law School,
Professor Imani Perry, Princeton University,
Professor Akilah Folami, Hofstra School of Law,
Professor Tryon Woods, University of Massachusetts - Dartmouth,
Professor Kim Chanbonpin, The John Marshall Law School - Chicago,
Professor Anthony Paul Farley, Albany Law School,
Professor Pamela Bridgewater, American University Washington College of Law,
Professor Andre Smith, Widener University School of Law.