The Week In Radio: Shooting from the hip

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"IF THIS is the first time you've tuned into the Radio 1 Rap Show, you should know," advised the announcement before the programme last Friday (BBC Radio 1, Fridays 11pm-2am; Saturdays 9pm-midnight), "that this is the place for authentic hip-hop - and you might find some of the content offensive. So if you're not ready to enjoy the show, tune away now."

Its regular presenter, Tim Westwood, was still recovering at home from gunshot wounds inflicted, just five days before this broadcast, in a drive- by shooting on a south London street. In Tim's place was "a special mix by Funkmaster Flex" who is, according to Radio 1 controller Andy Parfitt, "New York's best-known hip-hop DJ and a regular Radio 1 contributor". Any hopes that the Funkmaster would be sensitive to Westwood's appalling experience were swiftly dispelled. Over the three-hour programme he verbally brandished sufficient firepower to seize control of a medium-size central African state. "Tim," says the controller, "wanted his show to be business as usual."

"The term 'gangsta rap' is outdated and meaningless," Parfitt assured me through e-mailed responses to e-mailed questions via the Radio 1 press office. But if it wasn't gangsta rap last Friday night - and how old-fashioned of me to think it might be! - its meaning was just as mindless and depressing. By item three in the programme - it would be inaccurate to call them records as many of the performances were live mixes and raps - we were already in a hail of hot metal: "I got the mind capacity of a young Butch Cassidy/ Get fly, let 'em defy gravity/ Both fire rapidly, lift your chest cavity..." quipped a young rapper.

In the fifth item, another rapper - again unidentified, as the Funkmaster did not once throughout the three-hour show have the courtesy to speak to his listeners, let alone impart any information - was bragging to one who could identify him only too well: "You know my style. I put you there, in a wheelchair/ You cannot run from the hot one with shotgun." This turned out to be but a fraction of his armoury: "I got an extra 20 [bullets] with the semi [automatic]/ When it hits you, you gonna do a 360, pretty swiftly/ And then nobody getting up, less they're in a wheelchair sitting up or spitting up/ Either way, I don't give a f***."

Quaintly, all the "fucks" in the Radio 1 Rap Show are routinely blanked out. So at least nobody uses rude words as they blast each other into bite-size chunks.

"As usual," says the controller, "Friday's programme contained a mix of the latest and most popular rap music: some love songs, some humorous lyrics and some references to the realities of life in urban America." The members of Radio 1's target audience of 15- to 24-year-olds hearing of "a cash hussle/ Leaves you with a bullet in your calf muscle" (item 25) must have felt grateful then for the dreary realities of life in, say, urban Bridlington or Winchester.

I'm still searching the tape for the "love songs". The seventh number didn't qualify. That was the one with the reference to sodomising women. Nor did item two: "Dress to impress/ Spark the bitch's interest/ Sex is all I expect/ Don't take 'em to the crib unless they're bonin'.''

"It is pointless," says Andy Parfitt, "to take individual lyrics out of context." I don't have to. The self-declared context for item 23 was "the art of getting robbed". A rapper who specialises in sticking people up at cashpoint machines threatened: "We're gonna get you whether you like it or not."

And in precisely which context would this blustering from the eleventh item be justified? "Get funny! Get funny!" yelled a bunch of Latino rappers, who have moved on from girlie guns: "Blow your legs off with a grenade/ Now you're flappin' like a mermaid..." Parfitt says he listened to an advance tape of this programme and deemed it suitable for broadcast. So how does he, particularly after the Westwood unpleasantness, justify the exploding chest or the impulse, in item 22, to "split your cardiovascular from the bullets we send you"? Or, maintaining the pathology motif, the "brains exposed" in item 27?

"Radio 1," he says, "has a duty to reflect the nation's communities and the diversity of contemporary music culture." By "the nation's communities", in this context, Andy Parfitt means, of course, black people. It's hard to imagine a more condescending and insulting attitude to the majority within that community than to suggest that these gunslinging, American, misogynist losers are an accurate reflection of black culture in the UK. But Parfitt thinks it's cool to broadcast this stuff.

The Rap Show, he says, is "recognised as the home of authentic hip-hop". Last week's "special mix", like The Rap Show every Friday and Saturday, was commissioned by Parfitt from Justice Productions - the independent production company owned by, er... Tim Westwood.

"There has not been a single complaint upheld against the show in the five years it has been on air," says Parfitt. He does not say who was making this judgement.

In the week of the Westwood incident there were 12 other shootings on the streets of London. Perhaps "the young Butch Cassidy" of item four came closest to an explanation: "It's just the hate that's been provided by y'all," he rapped, "reciprocated and multiplied by more..." If the warning at the top of the programme is designed to ring-fence this trigger-happiness and protect civilised listeners, it should not absolve the BBC from responsibility for peddling these attitudes.

Listeners would have been better advised of what was to come if, in place of the bogus sincerity, a few words of John Reith had been broadcast: "He who prides himself on giving what he thinks the public wants," wrote the first director general of the BBC, "is often creating a fictitious demand for lower standards which he himself will then satisfy." Word up, brother.

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