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Debate Over Rap Lyrics Continues

The 13-year-old Arkansas boy accused of gunning down classmates was influenced by the violence portrayed in the rap music he played repeatedly before the shooting, his English teacher told lawmakers Tuesday.

Mitchell Johnson listened to gangsta-rap artists including Tupac Shakur and Bone Thugs 'N Harmony "over and over" in the months leading to the March rampage in Jonesboro, Ark., said teacher Debbie Pelley. Often, he sang along to the lyrics, like the ones about "coming to school and killing all the kids."

"Mitchell brought this music to school with him, listened to it on the bus, tried listening to it in classes .... He was far more into this music than anyone else they (friends) knew," Pelley told the Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee, which is considering the effectiveness of advisory labels on music.

Senators expressed concern that label warnings are failing to tell parents enough information about such music, which they said sends strong messages of violence and sex.

But Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, said lawmakers are using the school shooting as an excuse for censorship. During a news conference before the hearing, Rosen referred to a media profile of Mitchell that mentioned his active participation in his Baptist church and choir.

"Nothing in that music made a troubled young child commit that crime," Rosen said.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who sought the hearing, said he was concerned that the music industry is marketing its most violent and misogynist music to teens.

"While industry executives assert that children are protected from this music, much evidence suggests that most hyper-violent albums are bought by children. There don't seem to be many Marilyn Manson fans over the age of 20," he said, referring to the shock rocker whose lyrics have been blamed for influencing the suicide of at least one teen-ager.

The suicide was the topic of the panel's last hearing on the topic. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., recalled how the boy's father had testified that his son was listening to a Marilyn Manson song when he killed himself.

Krist Novoselic, the former bassist for the band Nirvana, said lawmakers shouldn't base their opinions on one example of tragedy.

"There are millions of children or young people in the United States who hear those same lyrics and aren't compelled to kill themselves," he said.

Charlie Gilreath, editor-in-chief of the magazine Entertainment Monitor, said Congress should not try to implement a ratings system but instead find more ways to inform parents about the lyrical content of music. He suggested having the lyrics of songs made available prior to a purchase at retail stores. He said the effort should be similar to nutritional labels that the Food and Drug Administration requires on food packages.

Gilreath agreed with lawmakers tht the problem with warning labels is that they provide little content information to parents.

Written by Eun-Kyung Kim ©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed