One of the delights of researching and writing The Public Domain was that I got to research so many fields, from jazz and soul and hip hop to synthetic biology, constitutional history and the story of the VCR. It was a dilettantes’ delight. I also got to interview fascinating people. Two such folk were the rappers who, together, make up The Legendary KO — Damien Randle and Micah Nickerson — the duo who wrote George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People as a protest about the handling of Hurricane Katrina by both the government and the media.
Now, I know what you are thinking — isn’t there a huge, almost unbridgeable gulf between you and them? The answer is yes. As Damien puts it in a recent blog post on Rappers I Know…
Shortly thereafter, we got a call from Professor James Boyle, who teaches at the Duke School of Law. I was hesitant to take his call because i’m fan of UNC basketball, and hate Duke by default. I overcame my prejudices and obliged him.
Damien and I subsequently agreed that if we can overcome basic ingrained prejudices such as this, the problems of race, sex and class should be easy. Anyway, the post features a Youtube video of my lecture on the history of Damien and Micah’s song.
This is the story of a song and of that song’s history. But it is also a story about property and race and art, about the way copyright law has shaped, encouraged, and prohibited music over the last hundred years, about the lines it draws, the boundaries it sets, and the art it forbids.
..On August 29th, 2005, a hurricane made landfall in Louisiana. The forecasters called it “Hurricane Katrina,” quickly shortened to “Katrina” as its story took over the news. The New Orleans levees failed. Soon the United States and then most of the world was watching pictures of a flooded New Orleans, seeing pleading citizens—mainly African-American—and a Keystone Cops response by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The stories from New Orleans became more and more frightening. There were tales not only of natural disaster—drownings, elderly patients trapped in hospitals—but of a collapse of civilization: looting, murder and rape, stores being broken into with impunity, rescue helicopters fired upon, women and children sexually assaulted in the convention center where many of the refugees huddled. Later, it would turn out that many, perhaps most, of these reports were untrue, but one would not have guessed that from the news coverage.
..In Houston, Micah Nickerson and Damien Randle were volunteering to help New Orleans evacuees at the Astrodome and Houston Convention Center during the weekend of September 3. They, too, were incensed both by the slowness of the federal response to the disaster and by the portrayal of the evacuees in the media. But Mr. Nickerson and Mr. Randle were not just volunteers, they were also a hip-hop duo called “The Legendary K.O.” What better way to express their outrage than through their art?
The rest of the chapter is here. The video has all the music. White Scottish law professor reading rap lyrics with careful enunciation got very high marks from the rapper audience. It may be the new thing in hip hop culture and I promised to let Damien and Micah in on the ground floor.