Florida representatives debate Jay-Z lyrics
Katie Sanders
By Katie Sanders March 13, 2012

You may have heard about two Florida representatives "battle rhyming" over Jay-Z lyrics on the House floor in Tallahassee.

Crazy as it sounds, it’s not far from what really went down during the closing days of the 2012 legislative session.

Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, and House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, did debate a few lines from Jay-Z’s "99 Problems" on March 7, 2012. The exchange landed them national news coverage, some of which suggested both erred in invoking Hov.

We admit we lost track of it amid debate on personal injury protection insurance reform and cuts to higher education.

But with the legislative session done (though they return for special redistricting session March 14) we thought it would be fun to examine how the exchange came about and who got it right. You know, delve into the real issues.

The setting

Racial profiling and haters, two prominent themes of "99 Problems," weren’t at issue that day on the House floor. Williams, like other House Democrats, stood up in favor of a proposed amendment to a bill dealing with the Florida Evidence Code.

The bill aimed to help prosecutors in "victimless" domestic violence cases use statements to 911 operators and medical workers without them being discarded as hearsay.

An amendment, attached in the Senate by Republican Ellyn Bogdanoff, would have made evidence obtained through a warrantless search of a cell phone or other electronic devices inadmissible.

Democrats like Williams supported the amendment as a way to protect the privacy of people who keep a lot of personal information on their phone. But House Republicans opposed the amendment, saying it was unrelated to the purpose of the original bill.

In the end, the House refused to approve the amendment, the Senate gave in, and the bill passed.

The exchange

Williams, 36, weighed in after several other members in support of the amendment, saying, "You think about a wise businessman. … He even said, he knows his rights. … And I think Jay-Z said it best, and I'm (going to) quote for you …"

Williams then read off his cell phone:

"'I know my rights, so you're gonna need a warrant for that.'

"And he even went further to say, 'Aren't you sharp as a tack, you a lawyer or somethin'?'

"You know, so, members, when you're looking at this, support this. If you support Jay-Z, support this amendment. Thank you."

Cannon, a 43-year-old lawyer, jumped on Williams’ quotation from the rostrum just as fellow members began to chuckle.

"You know, and I must respectfully disagree with a correction, Rep. Williams: In that song, it was the officer who said 'Aren't you sharp as a tack or somethin' / You should try for a lawyer or somethin',’ so I got you on that.

"It's an unspoken rule of Chair Aubuchon (Gary Aubuchon, head of the Rules Committee) that if you're going to invoke Jay-Z, you must get the lyrics correct. I'm not sure Jay-Z would support this amendment."

Cannon let out a big smile as House members let out "Oooohs!" and laughs.

The real song

The lines Williams quoted come about midway through Jay-Z’s song, as he describes getting pulled over by a cop for "doing 55 in a 54."

Here’s the rap; Jay-Z voices both himself and the cop:

Cop: Do you mind if I look around the car a little bit?

Jay-Z: Well, my glove compartment is locked, so is the trunk in the back, and I know my rights so you gonna need a warrant for that.

Cop: Aren’t you sharp as a tack? You some type of lawyer or something, somebody important or something?

Jay-Z: I ain’t passed the Bar but I know a little bit, enough that you won’t illegally search my s---.

As some sites have already pointed out, namely the Washington Free Beacon, both Williams and Cannon flubbed the lyrics a bit.

Cannon said, "You should try for a lawyer or somethin,’" instead of, "You some type of lawyer or something?"

But his bigger point in calling out Williams was that it’s Jay-Z as the cop, and not Jay-Z as himself in the car, that Williams tried to reference.

What the reps say

PolitiFact Florida caught up with Williams, who said, "I think we were both right."

Jay-Z was still the person voicing the lyrics, regardless of who he was pretending to be in the pullover scenario, he said.

"I didn’t look at it so much as he called me out," Williams said, "as much as he’s the speaker, he has the mic last."

Cannon surprised most of the audience with his quick reply. But Cannon -- a former rock-and-roll DJ while attending the University of Florida -- knows his music.

The speaker sometimes plays songs for the House chamber after a long day of session. He used his Twitter account on March 5 to solicit requests, and said he played The Beatles’ "Money" in honor of the budget chairwoman and "Walk the Line" to celebrate the end of budget negotiations.

We asked Cannon’s office where he got his expertise on Jay-Z lyrics.

"Speaker Cannon has been a fan of rap since the late ‘80s," said spokeswoman Katie Gordon Betta in an email.

Wrapping it up

We’ve got 99 problems, but a Truth-O-Meter ruling ain’t one. Both parties are a little right and a little wrong. Williams is right that Jay-Z rapped the entire song, but the line about being a lawyer was performed by Jay-Z impersonating a cop. Cannon, meanwhile, is a bit off on the lyrics, though he didn’t have the aid of a smart phone like Williams.

This time, we’ll let Williams get the mic last.

"The important thing here is that we have an opportunity to bring lyrics from one of hip-hop’s icons into what is a very, very important debate," Williams said.

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Our Sources

"Daily Digest for 3/9," Miami Herald Naked Politics blog, March 9, 2012

Rep. Alan Williams’ Twitter account (@Alan4Florida)

Dean Cannon’s Twitter account (@DeanCannon)

MSNBC "Morning Joe," March 9, 2012

Amendment to HB 701 by Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale

HB 701

"Roc-A-Fella Republican," Washington Free Beacon, March 8, 2012

House session March 7, 2012, accessed via The Florida Channel

Music video for "99 Problems," Youtube.com

"Florida Lawmakers Spar Over Jay-Z’s ‘99 Problems’ Lyrics," MTV.com, March 9, 2012

"Florida lawmakers Alan Williams and Dean Cannon debate Jay-Z lyrics on the House Floor," The Huffington Post, March 8, 2012

Interview with Rep. Alan Williams, March 12, 2012

Interview with Katie Gordon Betta, March 12, 2012

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Florida representatives debate Jay-Z lyrics