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John Marshall Law School Professor Kim Chanbonpin Discusses Similarities Between Hip-Hop and Legal Writing

March 02, 2012

Kim Chanbonpin, an assistant professor of law at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago, discussed how hip-hop can improve a law student’s writing and legal education in general during a visit that was part of the Hip-Hop and the American Constitution lecture series and course created by Professor Donald Tibbs.

Chanbonpin proposed that significant similarities exist between legal writing and hip-hop because both hip-hop artists and lawyers draw upon preexisting bodies of work when authoring their own work. Chanbonpin claimed that, just as legal scholars cite precedential case law to substantiate legal arguments, contemporary hip-hop artist’s often sample early hip-hop music or lyrics to establish their own legitimacy.  As Chanbonpin observed, in “Juicy,” The Notorious B.I.G. establishes himself as a member of the hip-hop elite by referencing old-school rapper Shawn Brown before declaring “you never thought that hip-hop could take it this far.”

Chanbonpin argued that both cultures recognize the need to maintain regulatory standards for referencing other work. Hip-hop artists accomplish this by deeming some artists “biters” for failing to give proper deference to a predecessor’s work while, in legal writing, there are penalties for plagiarism. Chanbopin maintained that such standards are necessary to promote innovation in the respective fields.

Beyond highlighting the similarities between hip-hop and legal writing, Chanbonpin encouraged law students to employ some of the other characteristics inherent in hip-hop music. Aspiring lawyers would be wise to incorporate hip-hop artists’ confidence and bravado in their work, Chanbonpin said. Chanbonpin further proposed that, just as hip-hop artists must craft powerful metaphors or dismiss contradictory positions when presenting an argument, law students would benefit from doing the same. Finally, Chanbonpin concluded, lawyers, like hip-hop artists, must never lose sight that their work should always be enjoyable for their respective audiences.