EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. — A university professor who studies rap music and its cultural ties is expected to testify for a former student accused of threatening to go on a rampage at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
Charis E. Kurbrin, an associate professor of criminology, law and society at University of California, is listed as a defense witness in the trial of Olutosin O. Oduwole.
Jury selection begins today for the trial.
The university's website states that Kubrin's research "examines the intersection of music, culture and social identity, particularly as it applies to hip-hop and minority youth in disadvantaged communities."
Her writings include a book chapter titled "Rap Music's Violent and Misogynistic Effects: Fact or Fiction?" and a paper titled "Gangstas, Thugs, and Hustlas: Identity and the Code of the Street in Rap Music."
In 2007, while Oduwole was a student at SIUE, campus police impounded Oduwole's abandoned car and found the following note inside: "Send $2 to PayPal account. If this account doesn't reach $50,000 in the next 7 days then a murderous rampage similar to the VT shooting will occur at another highly populated university, this is not a joke!"
Oduwole was charged with a felony count of attempting to make a terrorist threat. Earlier in 2007, a Virginia Tech student went on a shooting rampage, killing 32 before fatally shooting himself.
Attorneys for Oduwole, an aspiring rapper, argue that his writings were just rap lyrics. They say his words were similar to Johnny Cash singing about shooting a man in Reno, just to watch him die, or Bob Marley singing about shooting the sheriff, but not the deputy.
In her "Gangstas, Thugs and Hustlas" paper, based on a study of rap albums that went platinum, Kubrin wrote that rappers and inner-city youths try to project a tough image to gain respect.
She wrote: "At the top of the hierarchy is the 'crazy' or 'wild' social identity. As a way to display a certain predisposition to violence, rappers often characterize themselves and others as 'mentally unstable' and therefore extremely dangerous."
She also wrote: "Some use their street knowledge to construct first-person narratives that interpret how social and economic realities affect young black men in the context of deteriorating inner-city conditions. Other narratives may be more mythical than factual. Regardless of their source or authenticity, rap lyrics serve specific social functions in relation to understandings of street life and violence."
At the time of his arrest, police had been investigating Oduwole's alleged attempts to buy and sell guns on the Internet. On July 3, 2007, a Kirksville, Mo., man reported that he never received an M-16 machine gun that he bought from Oduwole on the Internet. Two weeks later, a Madison County gun dealer alerted federal agents that Oduwole appeared "very anxious" and "very impatient" to get three .380-caliber semiautomatic firearms he ordered online. The dealer also said Oduwole ordered an Uzi-type weapon.
The threat charge is a class 1 felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Oduwole is free on bond. His father posted $120,000 cash for bail.