Much Respect: Toward a Hip-Hop Theory of Punishment
George Washington University Law School
Stanford Law Review, Vol. 56, No. 983, 2004
GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 314
GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 314
This Article imagines the institution of punishment in the hip-hop nation. Hip-hop can be used to inform a theory of punishment that is coherent, enhances public safety, and treats every human being with respect. As a top-selling genre of music in the United States, hip-hop already has had a significant social impact. Now, in a remarkable moment in American history, popular music is weighing the costs and benefits of punishment. In a Rawlsian sense, members of the hip-hop nation are best positioned to establish a criminal justice system; they are, demographically, most likely to be victims of crime and most likely to be accused of crime.
Hip-hop exposes the current punishment regime as profoundly unfair. It demonstrates this view by, if not glorifying law breakers, at least not viewing all criminals with the disgust which the law seeks to attach to them. When too many people are absent from their communities because they are locked up, criminal justice has unintended consequences. In a hip-hop jurisprudence, retribution would be the object of punishment, but it would be contained by important social interests.
Part I discusses the relationship between popular culture and criminal law. Part II provides a short history of hip-hop culture, with special attention to the rule-breaking that attended the culture's birth. Part III describes hip-hop's relevance to the current debate in criminal law scholarship about social norms. Part IV sets forth several elements of a hip-hop theory of criminal law. The Article concludes by comparing hip-hop justice with constructs of justice found in civil rights and critical theory.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 35
Keywords: incarceration, punishment, deterrence, hip-hop, rehabilitation, retribution, incapacitation, popular culture, rap, sentencing, social norms, drugs, crack
Date posted: July 18, 2007