Rap was a reaction to violent society, not a cause of it

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Anyone trying to trace links between hip hop music and gun violence will inevitably look at the United States, where street killings, drive-by shootings, violent rap lyrics and the murders of three prominent hip hop stars have provided fodder for headline writers over the past 15 years.

Anyone trying to trace links between hip hop music and gun violence will inevitably look at the United States, where street killings, drive-by shootings, violent rap lyrics and the murders of three prominent hip hop stars have provided fodder for headline writers over the past 15 years.

Many of the issues swirling in the aftermath of the New Year shootings of Latisha Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis have already had an exhaustive airing on this side of the Atlantic. Politicians, led by Tipper Gore, the wife of the former Vice-President Al Gore, have campaigned for years to clean up rap lyrics and restrict children's access to explicit material which, they say, encourages the climate of violence. Like Kim Howells, Ms Gore has been accused of everything from racism to reactionary cultural censorship.

The police and FBI have launched countless investigations into possible links between the moguls and DJs who create the most violent strains of hip hop music and the shootings of some of their closest friends and associates.

Last week, the feds raided the Manhattan offices of Murder Inc, a luridly named record label responsible for such stars as Ashanta and Ja Rule, in a search for evidence possibly linking the outfit to a notorious New York drug gang whose leader grew up in the same neighbourhood as Murder Inc's founder, Irv Gotti.

On Christmas Eve, police in Los Angeles rearrested the gangsta rap entrepreneur Suge Knight and threw him into jail on a parole violation after a year-long investigation into shootings involving employees and associates of Mr Knight's company, Tha Row (formerly known as Death Row Records).

It was Death Row which, in the early Nineties, spawned such acts as Snoop Dogg, who was charged and acquitted of a murder, and Tupac Shakur, who was shot and robbed in the lobby of a New York recording studio in 1993 and three years later, shot to death while driving in Mr Knight's car in Las Vegas. At the same time, Death Row became legendary for stories of intimidation, beatings and general thuggishness, stories that fell somewhere between reality and the deliberate macho posturing that is part of rap's public appeal.

Tupac's murder was followed three months later by the killing of one of his East Coast rivals, the Notorious B.I.G. Both crimes remain unsolved, and both remain the object of endless conspiracy theories involving East Coast-West Coast rivalries in the music business, gang showdowns between the LA Crips and Bloods, possible police corruption and more.

Last October, Jam Master Jay, MC of the seminal Eighties rap group Run DMC, was shot dead in New York. His killing, which seemed particularly shocking since he had nothing to do with glamorising violence in his work, is also

In the United States, gangsta rap grew out of a desperate inner-city culture in the Eighties marked by the explosion of crack cocaine use, the widespread availability of handguns (particularly the so-called Saturday Night Special) and the growing marginalisation of young black men excluded from the "greed is good" ethos of the Reagan era. There may be some analogies to the spread of cocaine and illegal firearms in Britain today.

Rap as a whole was largely a response to the grim social conditions, not a spur to violence in itself. Clearly, though, there were links between criminality and the music business, at least at the margins. Much police energy has been spent looking for evidence of drug money being laundered through record companies, an endeavour that has so far made as little headway as the various murder investigations.


Public Enemy

Attitude to women and guns: Flavor Flav was arrested for charges of assaulting his girlfriend in 1991. In 1993, he was charged with attempted murder for allegedly shooting at a Brooklyn neighbour.

Lyrics: From Yo! Bum Rush The Show: "Come on, let's step to the back, ya know what I'm sayin', I'll take you to the back and show you some of my techniques, and I'll stop a mud hold in your ass bitch ..."

NWA (Niggaz With Attitude)

Attitude to women and guns: Songs such as Find 'Em Fuck 'Em And Flee and To Kill A Hooker are violent. The album, Efil4zaggin had gang rape, paedophilia, cop killing, oral sex and prostitution.

Lyrics: From Straight Outta Compton: "Crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube, from the gang called Niggaz With Attitudes, when I'm called off, I got a sawed-off, squeeze the trigger, and bodies are hauled off, you too, boy, if ya fuck with me, the police are gonna hafta come and get me off yo ass ..."


Attitude to women and guns: Tupac Amaru Shakur had been arrested eight times by the age of 20, and served eight months for sex abuse. He survived being shot five times in a robbery in 1994. In 1996, Shakur, then 25, was shot dead after watching a boxing match with Death Row Records' president Marion "Suge" Knight.

Lyrics: From Secretz Of War: "War Time War Time, it's either yourz or mine Outlawz be on a grind, and a mission to shine And ride on em', leave em' stuck and fucked from the gate ..."

Snoop Doggy Dogg

Attitude to women and guns: Calvin Broadus was arrested twice for gun possession after Long Beach Polytechnic High School. In 1993, he was acquitted of a drive-by murder. His first album, Doggystyle in 1993 caused rows over lyrics said to be violent and sexist.

Lyrics: From Gin And Juice 2: "...Cup of that Gin and Juice, I blank a bitch out, then turn the bitch out, look here, there ain't no need for you to be wastin' my time, see I picked you up, now I'm gunna stick you up, and dick you up!"

So Solid Crew

Attitude to women and guns: The group have made headlines for inciting gun culture with their lyrics and band members have been arrested on gun charges. In March, Ashley Walters, aka Asher D, was sentenced to 18months' detention at a young offenders' institution for having a loaded handgun. He was released in October.

Lyrics: From Ride Wit Us: "This is my life, and still you're fucking with me, telling you niggas, talking bout' you wanna blaze me. I am prepared for you ..."