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Rap on Trial: How An Aspiring Musician's Words Led To Prison Time

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Olutosin Oduwole at his home in New Jersey.
Shankar Vedantam , NPR
Olutosin Oduwole at his home in New Jersey.

Olutosin Oduwole was in his dorm room at Southern Illinois University when police knocked on his door one day in 2007. They were there to arrest him.

"In my mind I'm thinking, 'Okay, maybe a warrant for a ticket.' I really didn't know what was going on," he says.

What was going on was that the police suspected that Olutosin, a college student and aspiring rapper, was on the brink of committing a Virginia Tech-style mass shooting on his campus. He was soon charged with attempting to make a terrorist threat, and was eventually convicted and sent to prison.

That conviction was later overturned by an appeals court, but to prosecutors, the case remains a clear example of a tragedy averted. To Tosin and his supporters, however, his prosecution was a fool's errand — an example of bias in how people perceive rappers and rap music.

This week on Hidden Brain, we'll meet Olutosin and explore his case from all sides. We'll also consider what one criminologist sees as a troubling rise in prosecutions that use rap lyrics to bolster claims that a defendant is violent.

The Hidden Brain Podcast is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Maggie Penman, Jennifer Schmidt, Renee Klahr, Rhaina Cohen, and Parth Shah. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain, and listen for Hidden Brain stories each week on your local public radio station.

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