King of gangsta rap on trial for drive-by killing

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The Independent Online
Washington - Snoop Doggy Dogg, the superstar of gangsta rap music, whose debut album, Doggy Style, entered the US charts at No 1 and sold four million copies, goes on trial today as an accessory to murder in an alleged drive-by shooting, writes Tim Cornwell.

Prosecutors say the former choirboy, real name Calvin Broadus, 24, was driving around Los Angeles two years ago when his bodyguard shot dead a member of a rival gang. Snoop, as he is known on the Long Beach streets where he grew up and joined the Crips gang, is often billed as an authentic product of the ghetto whose songs ring with first-hand knowledge of street- corner crack sales and gang wars.

But critics say gangsta raptakes rap tunes laced with strings of obscenities to glamorise gang violence and the gun culture, and degrades women. The case captures the debate over its place in culture.

Under pressure from Senator Bob Dole, the leading Republican presidential candidate, Time Warner recently stopped distributing gangsta rap records. Mr Broadus is also being sued for $25m (pounds 16m) by the family of the dead man, who say he used the killing to boost his reputation and his sales.

Mr Broadus, on $1m bail, has been helping friends in another rap group, Tha Dogg Pound, prepare a release that is said to set new standards for obscene language in a rap album.

Jury selection begins today in the Los Angeles Criminal Courts building where OJ Simpson was acquitted earlier this month.

Also charged are the alleged triggerman, McKinley Lee, and a friend, Sean Abrams.

Lawyers for the three say Mr Lee fired in self-defence after Philip Woldermariam, 20, the son of Ethiopian refugees, reached for a gun. Friends claim he was a member of a gang called By Yerself Hustlers and that Mr Lee was simply doing his job. Prosecutors call it a simple drive-by shooting with the victim shot twice in the lower back

Mr Simpson's lead attorney, Johnnie Cochran, is representing Mr Abrams. The jury will hear that the Los Angeles Police Department, whose conduct became a central issue in the Simpson case, accidentally destroyed key evidence, including the victim's bloody clothes, a bullet and a cartridge case.

Mr Broadus put the finishing touches to Doggy Style soon after the shooting. It has a mellow, ambling pace, and he almost speaks the words in a soft tenor voice. But the the lyrics spin tales of everything from the shooting of an undercover policeman to Mr Broadus's own death in a drive-by shooting.