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Tuesday, July 20, 1999 Published at 18:54 GMT 19:54 UK


Will hip-hop take the rap?

2Pac was gunned down in Las Vegas three years ago

By Tim Westwood's own admission, the hip-hop music scene can be a menacing one.

"What you have to remember is that hip-hop is from the street and on the street there is a lot of tension," the Radio 1 DJ said last year.

Indeed, police investigating the shooting of Mr Westwood, who is recovering after being shot on Sunday night, have not ruled out the theory that he was hit by a jealous faction.

He is known as the "kingmaker" of rap in the UK, thanks to his late night weekend show which attracts up to one million listeners.

[ image: Tim Westwood: Recovering after gun shot wound]
Tim Westwood: Recovering after gun shot wound
If Westwood's music connections were at the root of the shooting, and police are pursuing other avenues of inquiry, it would signal a worrying watershed in the history of hip-hop this side of the Atlantic.

Although the American rap scene is largely peaceful, gangsta rap, which embodies a hardcore, inner-city culture of drugs, guns and misogyny, has been a bloody battleground.

Less than three years ago, the scene, stoked by an east-coast, west-coast rivalry, was hit by the deaths of two major rappers.

2Pac - real name Tupac Shakur - was 25 when he was gunned down in Las Vegas. He had narrowly escaped death two years earlier when he was shot five times on entering a recording studio.

The west-coast star, whose record sales topped $90m, used his lyrics to boast of his violent, gun-fuelled life.

[ image: Rapper ODB of the Wu Tang Clan faced murder charges earlier this year]
Rapper ODB of the Wu Tang Clan faced murder charges earlier this year
A few months later, Brooklyn-born Notorious B.I.G, whose real name was Christopher Wallace, was shot dead in a car park in Los Angeles.

Although last year was more peaceful, the killings have not stopped. This year has seen the violent deaths of Lost Boyz rapper Freaky Tah and the cult star Big L.

In January, ODB, of the rap outfit Wu Tang Clan, was charged with attempted murder after allegedly firing a gun during an encounter with an undercover New York police officer.

Even more mainstream acts like Puff Daddy, who faxed Westwood with the message "the music is not doing the shooting, it's the violence that's out there", is no stranger to force.

Earlier this year Puffy attacked Columbia Records executive Steve Stoute with a chair. He was upset that images of him nailed to a crucifix appeared in the video of fellow rap star Nas's Hate Me Now and went out on MTV. The two later made up.

UK more peaceful

Yet in the UK, tales of aggression are rare in the rap scene, says Andy Cowan, editor of Hip-Hop Connection magazine.

[ image: Actor and rapper Will Smith - a world away from the gangsta image]
Actor and rapper Will Smith - a world away from the gangsta image
"I cannot think of any occasions where there's been any trouble with guns at a show. There's very little trouble over here," said Cowan.

"Most rap gigs [in the UK] are multi-cultural and harmonious affairs. I think part of that is just because of our stricter gun laws."

Another reason could be that gangsta rap, which is still "alive and kicking" in the US, has seen its British following wither, said Cowan.

Rather than being a rogue element of the American rap scene, some commentators have lambasted record companies for seizing on violence as a marketing ploy.

Rap is biggest seller

Although rap is largely performed by black artists, it draws a big white audience - something that has helped it become the biggest-selling music in the US. Aggression plays up to the white middle-class image of urban black life, they say.

"[Record executives are] happy to encourage acts to 'live' the personae they adopt in order to feed media hunger for dangerous, edgy and therefore newsworthy figures," said one voice in the music industry.

"The record industry make a living off it in much the same way that boxing promoters did in the past - as a way of exploiting young black men and women seeking a path out of the ghetto."

Black culture

This alleged white exploitation of black culture has been cited as one possible reason for the attack on Westwood, who is the white son of a church minister.

Some reports are claiming that Westwood's black affectations - he broadcasts in a lilting West Indian accent - coupled with his powerful hold on the rap scene in the UK, have made him professional enemies.

Whatever the true motive behind the attack, Westwood at least is resigned to the violent nature of the business.

Last year he said of the hip-hop scene: "There will always be feuding. There will always be conflict."

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