Category Archives: Modern Culture

Jay-Z, 99 Problems, the 4th Amendment and your Locked Trunk

Professor Caleb Mason of Southwestern Law School, in a Saint Louis University Law Journal article, “JAY-Z’S 99 PROBLEMS, VERSE 2: A CLOSE READING WITH FOURTH AMENDMENT GUIDANCE FOR COPS AND PERPS,” analyzes the legal issues in Jay-Z’s hip-hop hit, 99 Problems.

99 Problems is a song by Jay-Z. It’s a good song. It was a big hit in 2004. 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.

When I teach the Fourth Amendment, I ask my students what the doctrines tell us about, on the one hand, how to catch bad guys and not risk suppression, and on the other, how to avoid capture or at least beat the rap if not the ride. I’m always happy to tell my own stories, but the song struck me as the perfect teaching tool. All the students know it, and importantly for pedagogical purposes, it gets some things right—and some things very wrong.

It turns out that, while some other law professors have noticed 99 Problems, no one has yet provided a detailed, accurate analysis of the Fourth Amendment issues Verse 2 raises. In this Essay, I remedy that deficiency in the literature. This is, after all, one of the most popular songs of the last decade, and we should seize the opportunity to use it in our teaching. My audience, accordingly, is primarily teachers and students of criminal procedure, but I hope that my comments may be of some interest to cops and perps as well.

Read the full article here.