Law professor rips apart Jay Z’s ’99 Problems’, line by line, for legal accuracy
Caleb Mason, apparent rap fan and Associate Professor of Law at Los Angeles’ Southwestern University, has produced one of the great academic papers of all-time for Saint Louis University’s Law Journal.
The paper is an analysis of the second verse of Jay Z’s “99 Problems” from the perspective of a criminal procedure professor.
In the introduction Mason outlines the purpose behind the paper:
“I’m writing about it now because it’s time we added it to the canon of
criminal procedure pedagogy. In one compact, teachable verse (Verse 2), the
song forces us to think about traffic stops, vehicle searches, drug smuggling,
probable cause, and racial profiling, and it beautifully tees up my favorite
pedagogical heuristic: life lessons for cops and robbers. And as it turns out,
I’m not late to the game after all: Jay-Z recently published a well-received
volume of criticism and commentary that includes his own marginal notes on
Verse 2 of 99 Problems.”
Yes, it should be added to the “cannon of criminal procedure pedagogy.”
Mason goes on to examine the song, line by line, providing what Jay Z gets legally right and legally wrong throughout the second verse:
Line 14 – “Are you carrying a weapon on you, I know a lot of you are”
“I know a lot of you are . . . Jay-Z comments that this “is another statement
with racial overtones that he [the cop] and I are both aware of.”
Yes, indeed: race is always lurking in the background of the reasonable suspicion
determination. You’re not going to put it right in your report, but it’s always
there. On the facts of this song, I would say that most courts would find
reasonable suspicion, primarily based on the suspect’s age, his gender, his
attire, his vehicle, and the location: all the officer would have to say is: “I had
reasonable suspicion that the suspect could be involved in drug trafficking, and
based on my training and experience, I know that drug traffickers habitually
Unfortunately Jay Z gets makes a classic legal mistake in lines 16-18: “Do you mind if I look around the car a little bit?”/”Well, my glove compartment is locked, so is the trunk and the back,/And I know my rights so you go’n need a warrant for that”
Mason explains the legal inaccuracy in these lines:
If this Essay serves no other purpose, I hope it serves to debunk, for any readers who
persist in believing it, the myth that locking your trunk will keep the cops from
searching it. Based on the number of my students who arrived at law school
believing that if you lock your trunk and glove compartment, the police will
need a warrant to search them, I surmise that it’s even more widespread among
the lay public. But it’s completely, 100% wrong.
I encourage you to read the entire paper here and wish I’d written something so fantastic when in law school.
Thank you Caleb Mason, your paper may be the greatest thing I’ve read in a very long time.