ou know the knack that some writers have for dissecting pop-culture news with an air of professorial authority, for turning Brittany Spears into a worthy topic for dissertation? Well this week, America met a new such a writer in the form of Southwestern Law School professor Caleb Mason who has written a paper analyzing the Jay-Z song “99 Problems.” It’s a brilliant, and eye-opening much-blogged-about introduction to the thinking of criminal defense lawyers. Until I read it, it never occurred to me that criminal defenders are essentially an organized force of resistance to the Drug War.
“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,” Mason says before launching into a line-by-line exegesis of the verse.
What’s eye-opening is seeing Mason give avowed drug dealers advice about fighting their charges. Here’s his take on this Jay-Z line: “In my rearview mirror is the motherfucking law/I got two choices y’all, pull over the car or/Bounce on the double put the pedal to the floor.”
The Drug War opponent in me applauds Mason’s advice and is grateful that low level dealers have an escape valve. The Puritan in me is appalled and wants to see them punished. Go figure.