Hip Hop And Violence: 'I have to ask myself - did I help promote violence?'

The question of whether the media is irresponsible in promoting music with violent lyrics won't go away. And for journalist Sonia Poulton, once part of the scene, the answer is becoming clearer

David Cameron caused a stir when he told Radio 1 recently: "Do you realise some of the stuff you play on Saturday nights encourages people to carry guns and knives?"

The Tory leader's attack on gangsta rap was directed at the BBC but, as this debate has grown, I wonder if there were other journalists, PRs, television producers and radio executives out there who - like me - are feeling a little guilty about their own roles in promoting this music?

Gangsta rap emerged in the Eighties from the West Coast of America. It was rap's seamy underbelly and very different from the conscious polemics of the likes of Public Enemy over on the East Coast. It was my job, as a music journalist until the late-Nineties, to report on it for music and style magazines and newspapers. I also relayed tales of my adventures in rap-land for Kiss FM radio listeners every week. I was rewarded with unrivalled access to the biggest artists and the scoops that came with it.

I have discussed Tupac Shakur's murder around P Diddy's dining table (he knew the rumours and denied involvement) and listened to a fearful Snoop Doggy Dogg prior to his murder trial (he also claimed innocence and was acquitted).

My commitment to the hip-hop cause frequently found me caught up in the artist's personal skirmishes. I have wiped mace from the eyes of the Wu-Tang Clan's Raekwon and Ice Cube (real name O'Shea Jackson) has shown me bullet holes in his living room. His mother Hosea, meanwhile, has shown me his nice college photos and questioned why her son has made millions from rapping about "Fuck Tha' Police". "I don't see my O'Shea saying those curse words. I see him like an actor," she told me. And an actor is what he later became.

As a white female from the Cotswolds, hip-hop, and the promotion of it, may not have seemed like a natural vocation - but it suited me. Rap music and its inherent edginess spoke to my desire to live dangerously.

Racial inequality also motivated me. It seemed hip-hop - and by extension black people - was under attack. In America, the music-censorship lobby the Parent Music Resource Centre raged against rap and rock music and eventually triumphed with the emergence of the Parental Advisory stickers.

NWA (Niggaz with Attitude), arguably the first mainstream gangsta rappers, were investigated by the FBI for incitement to violence. And the subsequent furore over Ice-T's "Cop Killer" - in response to the brutal beating of Rodney King in 1991 by the LAPD - resulted in his release from Warner Brothers Records.

It seemed an uneven playing field. Eric Clapton's "I Shot the Sheriff" cover didn't outrage the public. And John Lennon's "Happiness is a Warm Gun" could be construed as glorifying guns. Apparently it was OK for white boys.

Today satellite and cable channels show rap videos of young, primarily black men swaggering, pack-like, through grimy estates, pulling imaginary triggers with their fingers. Young men who perceive violence as cool. Marketing executives, who grow rich from the sales of the brand-name hoodies and trainers, the music, the magazines and the satellite subscriptions, well know of this association.

I acknowledge my role in this. Aside from articles endorsing the work of rappers, there are several pieces which fill me unease. Like the article solely about Tupac's transgressions, alleged beating of a video director and accused raping of a fan, for a popular monthly music magazine. The commissioning editor, a white university graduate, was visibly gleeful when he asked me to write the piece. Encouraged that a big-budget, international magazine wanted to promote what had previously been an underground music, I enthusiastically went along with it. I regret that now. The highly salacious piece appeared under the headline: "It's Slammer Time! Shot! Jailed! Album Out!...Latest"

The editor was excited by the perilous adventures of "gangsta rap" and, in this respect, he was similar to others in significant roles within the hip-hop industry. Whether that was me, as a writer, Jerry Heller, the "money" behind NWA, or national DJs like Radio 1's Tim Westwood.

This voyeuristic tendency wasn't restricted to white people. I had a spot on Kiss FM's weekly rap show and the hosts, DJs Max & Dave, two black men, delighted in the exploits that I relayed. The more outrageous (read: dangerous) the better. We were all, misguidedly, passionate in our justification of the music. So when Bel Mooney condemned gangsta rap and called for a Radio 1 ban in the Daily Mail I was outraged and responded with a heartfelt appeal to her that "this would be further suppression of what is already the outpourings of the oppressed".

I wrote that instead of condemning gangsta rap we should instead question the environments that inspired this music.

My views on the dangers of hip-hop began to change in 1997 when the great rapper Notorious BIG, who had overcome a desperate childhood to become a platinum-selling artist, was shot dead in California. I winced again more recently when teenage London rap fan Alex Mulamba was knifed to death in the street, prompting Cameron's comments.

Remorsefully, I accept the role I have played in championing gangsta rap and its attendant lifestyle - but I am not alone. There are DJs, concert promoters, video producers, record company personnel, managers and marketing executives, music outlets and all media who benefit from their association with this lucrative but dangerous genre.

Like basketball and other sports, hip-hop has served as a legitimate route out of the black American ghetto. It has acted as a global conduit that has united people and inspired many other music genres to borrow its beat.

Hip-hop remains hugely relevant, musically and politically; and I still love it. But there is a saturation of one type of rap music that celebrates violence. It's down to economics and the sponsorship deals that many gangsta rappers enjoy, such as 50 Cent's lucrative deal with Reebok, highlight the way many young people are attracted to danger, just as I once was.

As a mother, I fear for them and yearn for the return to prominence of positive rap, such as that made by De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and Kanye West. But today rap's many young impressionable followers are bombarded by the words and imagery of the "Thug Life" - the two words which Tupac had prophetically tattooed across his abdomen before he was shot dead.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Database Executive - Leading Events Marketing Company - London

£23000 - £25000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Databas...

Recruitment Genius: Publishing Assistant

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before