Simply put, the task before Trae seems illogical. No hip-hop artist has ever walked into a courtroom and essentially forced a radio station to play their music. Then again, no other hip-hop artist has a day named after him in his own city. Interestingly, it was the unfortunate events that occurred on Trae Day 2009 that set off a war of words between Trae and 97.9 The Box.
While most feuds between rappers and radio stations usually start and end on wax, Trae is daring to go where no rapper has gone. In the words of Trae's attorney, Warren Fitzgerald Jr, "This is a novelty case." its uniqueness was apparent on the face of district Judge Bill R. Burke Jr., who scratched his head repeatedly throughout Friday's preliminary hearing.
Trae alleges a pattern of business disparagement, conspiracy and tortious interference on the part of Radio One. Radio One, on the other hand, claims it has a constitutional right to decide what they will and will not play on the radio.
The main purpose of the preliminary hearing was to secure a temporary injunction on Radio One that would prevent them from interfering with his client's business. An exasperated Burke Jr. held up the bulky injunction request with his right hand and said, before either side even delivered an opening statement, "This injunction is impossibly broad. I don't know if I'll be able to enforce this thing."
In his opening remarks, Fitzgerald argued that the alleged ban on his client's music "interferes with his ability to make a living." (The Box has never formally confirmed or denied the ban.)
Fitzgerald then asked the judge restrain Radio One from deleting any emails that they sent out to communicate the ban to its employees. Fitzgerald's argument mostly centered on the fact that the ban prevents Trae and his associates from doing business and making a living.
The judge scratched his head. "How do I make them do business with him?" he inquired. "Maybe there's some FCC code that I don't have jurisdiction over that addresses this."
Struggling with the dynamics of the case, he found solace in a pizza-related metaphor.
"Say I have a Papa John's," he said. "If someone comes to my Papa John's and I don't like the way he's dressed - what's that policy? No dress, no shoes, no service? If I don't want to do business with him, that's my right."
Similarly, the judge argued, Trae doesn't have to deal with The Box if he doesn't want to. "That's his right." Sure, but Trae probably wouldn't mind trading this right for a chance to get his music played on The Box.
Trae's attorney fired back with a point about The Box being the only hip-hop radio station in the area. "The answer to that," Burke retorted, "is start your own radio station."
Radio One's attorney stood up and gave his statement with ample references to the Trae Day shooting and Trae's interview with The Box the next day. Now about Nnete's question - the one where the morning-show personality seemed to imply that Trae had something to do with the shooting - "She got emotional," the attorney said about Nnete, "but I don't think she said anything offensive. Mr. Thompson later released a mixtape talking about her weight and calling her a bitch."
Trae's attorney would later clarify that Trae never called Nnete a bitch.
"My client here is very knowledgeable about FCC regulations," Radio One's attorney said, pointing to program director Terri Thomas. "There's nothing in the FCC regulations that requires us to play what we don't want to play or advertise what we don't want to advertise. I guess the conundrum here is that it affects Mr. Thompson from making money. Well, that's just too bad."
After hearing both sides of the argument, the judge reiterated his point about Radio One's right to choose its own business partners: "If their position is 'We won't do business with you, then that's within their right.'" He later added, "Your request for a temporary injunction is denied."
Afterward, Fitzgerald told us that he believes they have a legitimate chance in the case, but it's the principle that matters. "People sometimes make decisions based on making money and not principles," he said. "Trae is willing to stand up for what's important."
We asked Trae if he'd consider starting his own radio station. "I might," he smiled. "I'm thinking about it. We'll see what happens."
The next hearing is set for August 16.