Coleman research on hip-hop and U.S. soft diplomacy published

Bowen law student Kalen ColemanKalen Coleman, a third-year student in Bowen’s part-time division, recently published an article in the University of California Hastings Communications and Entertainment Law Journal.

Coleman’s article, “Wake Up or Get Woke: The Paradox of America’s Diplomatic Export of Hip Hop,” was written as part of Professor andré cummings’ Hip Hop & the American Constitution course. Coleman was a student in the course during the fall 2019 semester.

The article discusses the U.S. State Department’s soft-diplomacy efforts that send musical ambassadors to other countries. Hip-hop artists have been participating in the American Music Abroad program since 2001. And, as Coleman discovered, jazz artists were part of the Cultural Presentations Program in the 1950s. Both programs were designed to enhance the reputation of American culture while combating anti-American feelings abroad.

Coleman said his research during the course began as a broad overview, but then he discovered the American Music Abroad program.

“It was surprising to me,” he said. “It seemed so far apart – an anti-establishment art form being promoted by an establishment program.”

The parallel between the exportation of 1950s jazz and 2000s hip-hop led Coleman to a discussion of the similar legal issues each group has faced. African-American artists have long dealt with cultural and artistic appropriation in addition to being marginalized by their own government.

“There is a paradox,” Coleman says. “These artists have been asked to represent a country that is still unjust to them and to their communities.”

Indeed, both genres are seen as uniquely American and representative of American freedom despite the artists being domestically marginalized.

Professor cummings encouraged Coleman to submit the paper for publication and walked him through the process. Coleman reviewed the journals and selected those that dealt with entertainment topics. UC Hastings was on that list. From submission to publication, the process took most of 2020.

“Kalen’s paper is one of the best student papers I have ever read,” cummings said. “The subject matter is provocative and fascinating—that the United States is using hip-hop and its artists to promote American ideals of entrepreneurship and creativity abroad, all while the genre and artists are attacked at home. I learned a lot about U.S. soft-diplomacy reading this paper.”

Coleman is from Greenwood, Arkansas. He relocated to Little Rock in 2013 to work as an electrical engineer. He is married and has an almost one-year-old son.

Coleman’s interest in compliance and patent law led him to law school. He sees his legal education as a way to expand his career options in engineering and regulatory work.

Taking the hip-hop course meant getting his boss’s permission to leave work early on class days.

“When he heard the name of the course, he was excited to let me go,” Coleman joked.

It’s safe to say the course has been his favorite at Bowen so far.

“It exceeded my expectations,” Coleman said. “I had no idea how much and how deep hip-hop and the law interact. I went in thinking it would be more like entertainment law, and it was so much more than that.”

It has also piqued his interest in further publication.

“I researched universal basic income for my comparative law class,” Coleman said. “It was a super interesting topic with a great deal of constitutional history. I’d like to put a little extra work into the paper and submit it…if I can convince myself to spend more time in front of the computer.”

Coleman’s work can be found here.

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