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Debunking the myths of ’99 Problems’

So it turns out that, contrary to all appearances, Jay-Z is not the world’s foremost legal scholar after all.

Caleb Mason, a law professor at Southwestern Law School recently published a 19 page legal analysis of Jay-Z’s 2004 hit “99 Problems” in the “Saint Louis University Law Journal.”

In it, Mason picks apart the second verse of the song line by line and describes its various legal implications. (In the song, Jay-Z admits he “ain’t passed the bar” but contends he still knows a little bit about the law.)

For those unfamiliar with Hov’s masterpiece, the second verse describes an encounter with a racist police officer who pulls him over for driving one mile an hour above the speed limit. (Jay-Z says the account is based on a real incident.)

Jay-Z mulls the option of stepping on the gas and giving the officer a chase, as he is carrying narcotics in his trunk, but decides against it because he has the financial means to fight the case in court if need be.

The officer asks to look around the car a little bit, to which Jay-Z responds, “Well my glove compartment is locked so is the trunk and the back, and I know my rights so you gon’ need a warrant for that.”

Mason says that particular line is troubling to him because it creates a false impression in the public about the Fourth Amendment:

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 percent wrong.

Mason goes on to describe how the Supreme Court has declared that because cars are mobile, it is legal under the Fourth Amendment for police officers to perform a search if they have probable cause to believe there is evidence of a crime in the car (say, perhaps, drugs).

Despite the poor legal advice in the song, Mason says, “In one compact, teachable verse… 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.”

But perhaps if Jay-Z has some spare time between all the champagne, private jet flights and drives in his Maybach, he could work on passing the bar before he dishes out any more legal advice.