Did rappers Outkast violate the publicity rights of civil rights icon Rosa Parks? Did they use her name in the title of a song, not only without permission, but in a defamatory manner?
It’s drama of the highest order. Parks vs. LaFace Records, case 03-504. Young vs. old. Newfangled vs. old-fashioned.
Parks filed suit in 1999. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan dismissed the case, and that dismissal was upheld on appeal. It seemed the issue was settled.
But the U.S. Supreme Court gave Detroit resident Parks, 90, a breath of new life last week, denying Outkast’s petition seeking dismissal of the remainder of the suit, the part that accuses Outkast of false advertising.
The new question promises to be the subject of high hip-hop debate. Does Outkast’s Grammy-nominated song “Rosa Parks” have anything to do with Rosa Parks, or did the group use her name for marketing purposes? Outkast says it has something to do with her, Parks says it has no context relevant to her.
“The song was not about Ms. Parks,” says Parks’ attorney, Gregory Reed. “The song is about Outkast. It’s saying ‘All you other rappers get to the back of the bus. Outkast is coming up.’”
Reed says younger generations should be more responsible in protecting cultural artifacts and icons.
Parks made history is 1955 when she refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus to a white man. Her arrest helped trigger the Montgomery bus boycott, and symbolized the beginning of the civil rights movement.
It’s the mother of all scolds when one of hip-hop’s biggest groups gets sued by one of the world’s most-beloved civil rights figures.
The song’s chorus has been analyzed in the courts, but Reed contends the entire song must be examined. Since Outkast was unavailable for comment on this story, an analysis of the words to “Rosa Parks” may help readers to contextualize the case. Yours truly is bilingual, speaking decent English and fluent “rap-alese.” Thus, I offer a proper translation of said tune. You, then, can judge for yourself whether it puts Parks in a false light.
My translations appear in italics.
Ah ha, hush that fuss.
Come now. Stop whining.
Everybody move to the back of the bus.
All passengers (rappers) move to the rear of the motor coach.
Do you wanna bump and slump with us?
Would you like to party and relax with us?
We the type of people make the club get crunk.
We’re the kind of people who make the danceteria a lot of fun.
Verse 1 (Big Boi)
Many a day has passed. The night has gone by.
Many days have passed. The night has also.
But still I find the time to put that bump off in your eye.
Regardless, I find time to make music accessible to you.
Total chaos for these playas. Thought we was absent.
Due to entropy, you believed we had gone away.
We takin’ another route to represent the Dungeon Family.
We simply employed another method to promote our friends and associates, the Dungeon Family.
Like Great Day, me and my nigga decide to take the back way.
Like Great Day, myself and my good friend, who is referred to with an otherwise negative term that many black people have appropriated to symbolize endearment to chums, have taken a sort of rear entrance, if you will, so to speak.
We stabbing every city then we headed to that bat cave,
We promote ourselves across America before returning to our home.
A-T-L, Georgia. What we do for ya,
Atlanta, Georgia (that’s home), we think you should be proud of us because ...
Bull-doggin hoes like them Georgetown Hoyas.
(pick one) We defeat our competitors in the manner of Georgetown University’s basketball team. (Or) go through women like the Georgetown Hoyas go through basketball foes.
Boy, you sounding silly, think my Brougham ain’t sittin’ pretty.
You’re mistaken if you think my Cadillac Brougham is not a nice car.
Doing doughnuts round you suckas like them circles around titties.
The circles I drive around you nitwits resemble areolae on women’s breasts.
Damn! We the committee gone burn it down.
It’s dumbfounding! We’re going to be big in the music industry.
But us gon’ bust you in the mouth with the chorus now.
But first, we’re going to introduce the chorus to this song, which we think you’ll like.
Verse 2: (André 3000)
I met a gypsy and she hipped me to some life game.
A gypsy gave me some advice on life
To stimulate, then activate, the left and right brain.
That stimulated both hemispheres of my brain, the emotional and the logistical.
Said, “Baby boy, you only funky as your last cut.”
She said, “I like you a lot, but you’re only as good as your most recent song.”
“You focus on the past, your ass will be a has-what.”
“Rest on your laurels and you’ll become irrelevant.”
That’s one to live by, or either that’s one to die to.
That’s principled advice, worth dying to uphold.
I try to just throw it at you. Determine your own adventure, André.
It’s just a suggestion. Determine your own course, André.
Got to her station. Here’s my destination.
The bus arrived at her stop, my destination as well.
She got off the bus, the conversation lingered in my head for hours.
She left, but what she said was very thought-provoking.
Took a shower, kinda sour ’cause my favorite group ain’t comin’ with it.
I took a shower, thinking about my favorite group, whose recent material has been substandard, in the context of the gypsy’s advice.
But I’m witcha you, ’cause you probably goin’ through it anyway.
But I still support them, because they’re probably dealing with their own issues.
But anyhow, when in doubt, went on out and bought it,
Regardless, I purchased their album,
’Cause I thought it would be jammin’. But examined all the flawsky-wawsky.
Because I thought it would still be good. But I struggled with all of the flawed material.
Awfully, it’s sad and it’s costly, but that’s all she wrote.
It’s sad, and an expensive predicament, but they can call it a career.
And I hope I never have to float in that boat,
I hope I never have to experience that,
Up shit’s creek. “It’s weak” is the last quote
In a difficult spot, “It’s weak” is the last thing
That I want to hear when I’m goin’ down.
I’d want to hear when I’m in the twilight of my career.
When all’s said and done and we got a new Joe in town.
After all, there’s a new artist on the market.
When the record player get to skippin’ and slowin’ down,
When my music is passé,
All y’all can say is, “Them niggas earned them crowns.”
Admit it — those guys earned their rightful place as industry leaders.
But until then ...
(Chorus)Khary Kimani Turner breaks it down for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org