Hip-hop is perhaps the most listened-to musical genre in the world and it is still used as a form of protest. Taylor Bell, an aspiring rapper, was a young high school student who decided to do just that and it was a decision that led him all the way to the Supreme Court, according to The New York Times.
In late 2010, Bell was approached by several female students at his school, Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Miss., and was told that two of the school’s coaches had engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior toward them. Bell seemed to be convinced that if this information were to be brought to school officials, it would yield little to no results. His solution was to write a song in protest, a hip-hop song detailing what the girls had been through. The song, “PSK da Truth,” was posted on his Facebook page as well as YouTube.
The hip-hop song calls the coaches out by their names, using explicit language to shame them for their behavior. School officials caught wind of the song and brought it to Bell’s attention, who insisted that any violent or aggressive imagery suggested in the song was not to be taken literally.
Bell was suspended and sent to an alternative school, a decision made by the school’s Disciplinary Committee. But, artists such as T.I., Big Boi, Pharoahe Monch and Killer Mike are stepping up and defending Bell’s actions, arguing his protection under the First Amendment.
“In attempting to censor Bell’s artistic expression, the school, and later the Fifth Circuit, essentially took aim at rap music, a sophisticated form of poetry that has served as an important vehicle for social commentary and political protest, particularly among young men and women of color. By taking Bell’s song lyrics literally rather than as forms of artistic expression, both the school and the Fifth Circuit essentially delegitimized rap as an art form that is entitled to full protection under the Constitution.”
The hip-hop artists urged the justices to hear an appeal from Bell, who was a senior in high school when he was suspended. Bell wrote and recorded the song away from the school property, inside of a professional studio, during the school’s winter break, but he was still punished; and, according to the school, guilty of harassment and intimidation.
Taylor Bell, who raps as T-Bizzle, is now 22-years-old and is still very much heading toward a career in hip-hop. Bell seemed quite surprised when he heard the names of the stars who have come to defend him.
“The song does carry a lot of strong, vulgar language,” Bell said. “If you don’t really listen to hip-hop music, sometimes that language can kind of blur the message of what you’re trying to get across.”
Based on the lyrics of the song, his message was clear. The harassment and assault these coaches committed, whether it be physically or verbally, was unacceptable. In response to his suspension, Bell and his mother sued, wanting to have his school record expunged. But, they only sued the school for one dollar, making it clear the intention of getting money was at the very bottom of their list of reasons for the lawsuit.
A 16-member panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, did not accept Bell’s First Amendment challenge. The court may decide in February whether or not to hear the case, Bell v. Itawamba County School Board, No. 15-666.
“It bears mentioning,” Judge Dennis added, “that the school board has never attempted to argue that Bell’s song stated any fact falsely.”
Itawamba Agricultural High School is the same high school that canceled a prom in 2010, due to a lesbian student wanting to attend with her girlfriend.
[Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]