Wednesday, Nov 07 2012 04:22 PM

Busting rhymes and doing time with Lily Hirsch

BY MATT MUNOZ Californian staff writer mmunoz@bakersfield.com

The controversy surrounding the lyrical content of rap music in the courtroom will be the focus of a lecture by visiting author Lily Hirsch at Bakersfield College on Wednesday.

Hirsch will present a selection of high-profile and noteworthy court cases in which rap lyrics have been used against the accused.

Hirsch holds a Ph.D. in musicology from Duke University and has taught at Cleveland State University. Her 2008 book, "Hitler's Jewish Orchestra: Musical Politics in the Berlin Jewish Culture League," explores the only Nazi-era institution in which Jews were allowed to both participate as musicians and audience members.

Her latest book, "Music in American Crime Prevention and Punishment," is a further exploration of Hirsch's argument that music often is misused to both control and punish, most prominently in the rap music genre and specifically the artists behind the music.

"What I see happening here in the courts is they're using rap lyrics as evidence of crime supposing there's some sort of one-to-one correspondence between what a rapper writes and who he is. That's a very Romantic-era idea, that the composer composes who he is and the music reflects who he is. That's a really problematic idea, especially in rap music, where normally it's not just the one rapper who's writing this music, there's a whole host of people that have input. That being said, that's just one issue."

Included in her research is the case of gangster rapper Corey "C-Murder" Miller, convicted of second-degree murder in 2002. During the trial, Hirsch said, the prosecutor often referred to Miller by his stage name, C-Murder, rather than his given name.

"I think it displayed awareness of how the role of just his persona as a rapper played in his conviction. It's not always just about the lyrics. Even if there's no direct point of reference from a page with verses, you'll have some sort of reference to the person as a rapper."

Another case discussed in Hirsch's lecture will be that of rapper Calvin "Snoop Dogg" Broadus, arrested in connection with the 1993 shooting death of gang member Phillip Woldermarian by Broadus' bodyguard, McKinley Lee. Broadus, as the driver of the vehicle from which the shooting had occurred, was charged with murder. Both men were acquitted, but Broadus remained entangled in legal battles surrounding the case for three years. Hirsch said Broadus' troubles intensified following the release of his 1994 album, "Murder Was the Case."

"I'm really tracing and discussing the problem. First, it's not just one single rapper writing about his life experience. Second, rap is not some sort of authentic extension of the rapper. Oftentimes, it's a whole projection or character. You see that especially with rappers like Eminem, who has so many characters involved in his rap, it's not just who he is as a person.

"Also the violence, especially in gangster rap, is metaphorical -- it's about power, not actually about a specific crime or glorification of violence. It's about some sort of lost power, so this sort of direct reading of rap that's happening at court, 'this violent act was written by the rapper, therefore he would do something like this,' is really super-problematic."

Hirsch's book includes a brief section on heavy metal rock lyrics.

"It seems like, in general, heavy metal and rap are the two most suspect genres of music in our society, based on how the courts treat them. I do think rap is probably treated a little more suspect, but I think its pretty close."

During the hour-long multimedia presentation, other topics will include music and violence, music in prison, how music is being used as torture in the War on Terror, the use of classical music to repel teenagers and the punishment of noise violators.

"It's so funny and horrifying at the same time, but today you're starting to see it enter academia. (Rap producer) Swizz Beatz was a resident composer at NYU. So, it's starting to have some sort of respectability. But I think it's based on how the courts are treating rap music." Lily E. Hirsch: "Rap Lyrics as Evidence of Crime"

When: 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Norman Levan Center for the Humanities, Bakersfield College campus

Admission: Free. Open to the public.

Information: 395-4339

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