'99 Problems' Law Review Article: Professor Examines Jay-Z's Seminal Crime Story

Just How Accurate Is Jay-Z's '99 Problems'?

Jay-Z's "99 Problems" has become something of a crime anthem, a cathartic inversion of "I Fought The Law." In the song, a younger Jay-Z is transporting drugs in his car when he sees dreaded flashing lights behind him. Over the rest of the verse, Jay-Z details his conversation with the officer and trails off when the cop suggests that police dogs are on the way.

The song produced a handful of the most memorable lines in recent hip-hop history, including "I got 99 problems but a b---h ain't one," which became a refrain shouted by single men (just like his future wife Beyonce's "if you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it"). But just like Ray Bradbury eventually said he never meant Farenheit 451 to be an anti-government censorship tome, Jay would later clarify the songs lyrics and say his use of "b---h" in the song refers to a police dog and is not a derogatory term for a woman (watch Jay explain the song in the video at the top of this post).

Regardless, the track continues to be memorized by countless hip-hop fans. Given its universality and the legal nature of its subject matter, it's perhaps surprising that it took so long for an extremely thorough breakdown of the relevant law enforcement issues to be published. Alas, the wait is over.

Caleb Mason, an associate professor of law at Southwestern Law School, has written a 19-page law review article on how the Fourth Amendment factors into the second verse of "99 Problems."

The whole piece, which was published in the Saint Louis University Law Journal, is available as a PDF here. It's a great read, mostly because Mason doesn't pretend he's not having fun. Here's a sample, regarding the couplet "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":

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.

Better still, consider the broader takeaway Mason suggests for both law enforcement personnel and perpetrators:

The lesson for perps is threefold: (1) don’t consent, (2) know the reasonable suspicion boilerplate and don’t provide it, and (3) make a record of the encounter any way you can, including your behavior, appearance, and demeanor before and during the stop, the officer’s stated motive for the stop, all of your responses to questioning, whether or not you were placed under arrest, and the exact amount of time you were held on the side of the road. And finally, most importantly, for both sides—when in doubt, talk to a lawyer. My door’s always open to players on both sides of this game. Call me.

And there you have it. Again, here's the link to the full article.

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