Hip-Hop Researcher Testifies In Rap Case

Associated Press

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The violent rap lyrics that got their teenage author expelled from school are typical of a genre that emphasizes verbal jousting, not necessarily a prelude to violent action, an expert told a federal judge.

Anthony Latour, 14, was expelled from the eighth grade in mid-May for the lyrics, which he wrote outside of school. The American Civil Liberties Union is trying to get him reinstated when classes begin Aug. 31 in the Riverside Beaver County School District.

At a hearing Thursday, ACLU attorney Kim Watterson said Latour's words, although violent, had to be taken in context of "battle rap," a genre in which rappers try to outdo one another with "these flexing of lyrical muscles."

To make her case, she called Bakari Kitwana, an author of three books on hip-hop culture. Chief U.S. District Judge Donetta Ambrose seemed appreciative.

"Probably of anyone in this room, I am the least familiar with hip-hop culture," said Ambrose. The judge gave no indication on when she would rule in the case.

Kitwana said rap vocabulary is misunderstood by people unfamiliar with hip-hop. Battle rap "can get pretty nasty in terms of the language," he said, but the words don't lead to violence. "It's absolutely a verbal challenge," he said.

One line in Latour's song says: "So watch what you say about me, I'm everywhere son, And the word of mouth is that I'm carrying guns."

School officials learned of LaTour's writings in March and contacted police. That led to criminal charges of making terroristic threats and harassment, which haven't been resolved.

Latour was expelled following a May school board hearing.

Anthony Sanchez, an attorney representing the district, said the district was forced to act and that Latour could have made his case at the expulsion hearing. He had not spoken at that time.

Sanchez said one girl's mother said her daughter had a "mental breakdown" because of harassment and Latour's raps. The girl has since left the district. Watterson contended no one referred to in the songs felt threatened. She and others were identified in court using only pseudonyms.

The school district serves about 2,000 students in three townships in northern Beaver County, about 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.

Kitwana called Latour's songs "amateurish" and "standard fare" but encouraged him to continue his efforts.

"It's clear to me that he's listening to the music," Kitwana said, noting that Latour's song "The Massacre" seemed to have been written around the time the album of the same name was released by rapper 50 Cent.