UCI News

UCI, other professors enlist rappers for US Supreme Court brief

Justices urged to hear First Amendment case involving high school student

by Roy Rivenburg / | December 21, 2015

Irvine, Calif., Dec. 21, 2015 – In what may be the first amicus brief signed by prominent rap artists, a University of California, Irvine professor and two hip-hop scholars have enlisted Killer Mike, T.I. and Big Boi, among others, in a request to have the U.S. Supreme Court hear a First Amendment case involving violent lyrics penned by a high school student in Mississippi.

“No other form of artistic expression has been treated by the courts like rap music,” said Charis E. Kubrin, a UCI criminology, law & society professor who has written extensively and testified in criminal cases about stereotypes associated with hip-hop lyrics.

At issue is the case of Taylor Bell v. the Itawamba County School Board. In 2011, Bell was suspended and transferred to a different school after recording a song that decried the alleged sexual misconduct of two coaches toward female students.

In the brief, Kubrin outlines studies showing how rap songs are perceived differently from country and rock music. For example, when test subjects were told that the lyrics of a 1960 Kingston Trio folk tune about shooting a deputy came from a rap song, they reacted much more negatively than subjects who were told the words were in a country song.

“The visceral response that many people have to rap music stems in large part from broader racial stereotypes, especially about young men of color,” Kubrin writes.

The legal brief drafted by Kubrin and two other rap experts – Erik Nielson of the University of Richmond and Travis L. Gosa of Cornell University – was co-signed by eight musicians and two dozen professors and scholars.

About the University of California, Irvine: Currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 30,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $4.8 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.

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