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Shakur’s lyrics attacking ‘gangsta rap’ critic are protected as opinion

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From the Summer 2000 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 35.

From the Summer 2000 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 35.

Rapper Tupac Shakur’s lyrics against a politician who was on a crusade against rap music were opinion and thus protected from defamation claims, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia (3rd Cir.) decided on July 17.

The appellate court’s unpublished decision upheld the 1999 dismissal of the claim by the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.

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Months before he died in 1996, rapper Tupac Shakur released a record that twice criticized C. Dolores Tucker, former secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and former chair of the Democratic National Committee Black Caucus. Tucker had led a crusade against “gangsta rap.”

One of the songs that referred to Tucker, “How Do U Want It,” says, “Delores Tucker, yous a muthafucka, instead of trying to help a nigga you destroy a brotha, . . . you too old to understand the way the game’s told.” In the other song, Shakur says, “Dear Ms. Delores Tucker, you keep stressin’ me, fuckin with a motherfuckin’ mind. I figured you wanted to know, you know, why we call them ho’s bitches. . . . It’s strictly business, baby, strictly business.”

Tucker responded to the songs by suing Shakur’s estate and various recording companies, distributors and retailers in federal District Court in 1997.

She argued that Shakur portrayed her as a traitor when he knew that she was not. Because Shakur’s 5 million fans considered Shakur a “god,” Tucker also argued, they would take Shakur’s lyrics to be facts, not opinion. She also argued that the lyrics invited Shakur’s fans to “eliminate” her.

The district court found for Shakur’s estate and the other defendants. Tucker appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia (3rd Cir.).

Tucker told the appellate court that the trial court had not read Shakur’s lyrics in context. The court disagreed, saying that in context the song was about the “self-destruction of a young woman” and that the song’s reference to Tucker did not suggest that she was like the other women Shakur referred to.

In explaining its holding in an unpublished opinion, the court wrote that the reference to Tucker “did not tend to injure her reputation, her business or profession, or expose her to public hatred, contempt or ridicule and thus were not defamatory.”

The court described the reference to Tucker as an opinion “that Tucker was out to hurt rather than to help her fellow African-Americans.”