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Arkansas attorney fights for justice in courtroom… and on stage

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WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. – Kevin De Liban called himself an injustice crusher.

“I always say I’m a do-gooder. I mean that in kind of a tongue-in-cheek way,” De Liban said.

At Legal Aid of Arkansas, his clients proved to be some of the state’s poorest.

Many of them have been ripped off or discriminated against.

De Liban admitted he got into this line of work in the first place because of his love for hip hop.

“Because of the stories it was telling, because of the way it connected to me,” De Liban said.

He explained many hip hop lyrics tell stories of struggles and poverty that made him want to help people.

“Those are reinforcing messages of justice, bringing to light the situations that people live in, that if you’re not paying attention, you might not otherwise see,” De Liban said.

De Liban said he is aware he raises eyebrows given that he is a tall, lanky, red-haired attorney who is driven by his love for hip hop.

He raised even more eyebrows when people learn that by night, his love drives him to rap.

“A white rapper who’s a lawyer, who can also really spit, that’s not something you really see every day,” De Liban said.

WREG got to attend one of De Liban’s performances at the Rumba Room in Memphis.

“Oh , man, he was good,” said attendee Michael Isaac.

“I didn’t expect it to come out his mouth," one woman said.

De Liban explained that those are his favorite types of reactions.

“Disbelief, and that’s one of the things I love most. I just love upsetting people’s expectations and surprising people,” De Liban said.

De Liban told WREG he usually hits area open mic nights in his suit, because he comes from work.

He said many of his lyrics come from his clients’ experiences; the real issues that he believes people do not talk about.

“There’s a song where I rap partially in Spanish. It’s called Platano Papaya. One of the verses is about girls I used to work with in an orphanage for sexually abused young girls,” De Liban said.

Some of the lyrics are, “Still as you grow older, los chicos grow bolder. I worry that your past lurks right behind your shoulder.”

“The second verse there is all about them and my concern for their future relationships with men,” De Liban explained.

De Liban started writing and performing on the west coast when he was in college.

Work brought him to the Mid-South where he found a supportive community of artists.

“Kevin is dope. He’s a great rapper,” said poet Rhonda Holloway.

It was hard for many people to make sense of De Liban’s two sides.

“When fellow attorneys start asking you, ‘Hey, Kevin, are you really an attorney or are you really a rapper?’ You know, the response, it’s almost a surreal moment,” De Liban laughed.

When asked what is next for De Liban, he said he would love to combine his advocacy work and hip hop in some sustainable way.

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