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If You Shoot My Dog, I Ma Kill Yo’ Cat: An Enquiry into the Principles of Hip-Hop Law

Ars Aequi 62 (2013), pp. 99-108

17 Pages Posted: 10 Oct 2012 Last revised: 10 Mar 2013

Jan M. Smits

Maastricht University Faculty of Law - Maastricht European Private Law Institute (M-EPLI)

Andrei Ernst

Maastricht University

Steven Iseger

Maastricht University

Nida Riaz

Maastricht University

Date Written: October 1, 2012

Abstract

This article investigates how the law is perceived in hip-hop music. Lawyers solve concrete legal problems on basis of certain presuppositions about morality, legality and justice that are not always shared by non-lawyers. This is why a thriving part of academic scholarship deals with what we can learn about laymen’s perceptions of law from studying novels (law and literature) or other types of popular culture. This article offers an inventory and analysis of how the law is perceived in a representative sample of hip-hop lyrics from 5 US artists (Eminem, 50 Cent, Dr. Dre, Ludacris and Jay-Z) and 6 UK artists (Ms Dynamite, Dizzee Rascal, Plan B, Tinie Tempah, Professor Green and N-Dubz). After a methodological part, the article identifies four principles of hip-hop law. First, criminal justice is based on the age-old adage of an eye for an eye, reflecting the desire to retaliate proportionately. Second, self-justice and self-government reign supreme in a hip-hop version of the law: instead of waiting for a presumably inaccurate community response, it is allowed to take the law into one’s own hands. Third, there is an overriding obligation to respect others within the hip-hop community: any form of ‘dissing’ will be severely punished. Finally, the law is seen as an instrument to be used to one’s advantage where possible, and to be ignored if not useful. All four principles can be related to a view of the law as a way to survive in the urban jungle.

Keywords: law and literature, law and popular culture, music, hip-hop, punishment, respect, evolution

Suggested Citation

Smits, Jan M. and Ernst, Andrei and Iseger, Steven and Riaz, Nida, If You Shoot My Dog, I Ma Kill Yo’ Cat: An Enquiry into the Principles of Hip-Hop Law (October 1, 2012). Ars Aequi 62 (2013), pp. 99-108. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2158178 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2158178

Jan Smits (Contact Author)

Maastricht University Faculty of Law - Maastricht European Private Law Institute (M-EPLI) ( email )

P.O. Box 616
Maastricht, NL-6200 MD
Netherlands

HOME PAGE: http://www.jansmits.eu

Andrei Ernst

Maastricht University ( email )

P.O. Box 616
Maastricht, 6200MD
Netherlands

Steven Iseger

Maastricht University ( email )

P.O. Box 616
Maastricht, 6200MD
Netherlands

Nida Riaz

Maastricht University ( email )

P.O. Box 616
Maastricht, 6200MD
Netherlands

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