I Got 99 Problems But a Law Review Article Ain't One

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on July 19, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Law students charged with writing a law review article may feel like they have 99 problems -- or 120, or 200, or however many footnotes your 3L editors demand. Perhaps the biggest problem: what to write about in the first place.

Turns out, you can just turn to your iPod.

That's what an associate law professor seems to have done in the latest issue of the Saint Louis University Law Journal. His scholarly breakdown of Jay-Z's "99 Problems" is getting shared on the Internet, and shows law students that journal writing doesn't have to be dry.

Pardon us, however, if we say the professor's hip-hop polemic appears a bit familiar.

The professor's "99 Problems" law review article examines the major Fourth Amendment issues in Jay-Z's 2004 hit. It also follows FindLaw's Celebrity Justice blog, which did the same thing last November.

A coincidence, to be sure. (In fact, another attorney offered a different take on the lyrics for Yahoo! Voices in 2009.) But it's safe to say that the new analysis by Associate Professor Caleb Mason of Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles is the most detailed to date.

In a move that many law students may soon try to emulate, Mason takes a line from "99 Problems," then points out legal accuracies and inaccuracies. For example:

  • "And I Heard, 'Son do you know what I'm stopping you for?' / 'Cause I'm young and I'm black and my hat's real low?'" -- "Law students have to learn the hard lesson that racial profiling does not give rise to a Fourth Amendment suppression claim if there was objective probable cause for the stop," Mason explains.
  • "I got two choices y'all, pull over the car or bounce on the double..." -- "The flight will provide an independent basis for chasing and arresting you, and the inadequacy of the quantum of suspicion supporting the initial attempted seizure will not taint the contraband discovered if there is an intervening flight. Law students: practice explaining the preceding sentence to a layperson."
  • "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..." -- "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."

Will Mason's "99 Problems" law review article inspire others to dissect lyrics by, say, Bob Dylan ("Hurricane"), NWA ("F- Tha Police"), or that famous cover by The Clash ("I Fought the Law")? We can only hope.

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