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Bad is good for business

The "bad boy" image has long existed in the land of rock'n'roll. The Rolling Stones trashed hotel rooms in the Sixties. The Seventies saw Johnny Rotten exude punk angst. Metallica gave voice to the angry young man of the Eighties. But it was all good fun, something which can hardly be said of the violence which surrounds Nineties rap music.

Rap sales rocketed, making inner-city singers the new idols who earned millions faster than they are lost in a Wall Street crash. Inevitably an image was created to match the music, and as the names of groups such as Public Enemy and Niggaz With Attitude show, music's latest sensation was not about to promote peace and free love.

With lyrics laden with threats of killings and gang war it was perhaps unavoidable that someone was going to get hurt. In September 1996 the Los Angeles star Tupac Shakur was gunned down in Las Vegas. Last March Notorious BIG, a New York rapper, met a similar fate. Both were stars of gangsta rap, both former crack dealers, and both are thought to have been victims of a war as the East and West coasts of America load semi- automatics and carry the battle for supremacy out of the recording studio and onto the streets.

The Atlantic Ocean gives us a comfortable distance from which to follow proceedings. The closest British music comes to bloodshed is the Battle of Britpop - and that was recently settled with a jolly game of footy between Blur and Oasis.

But if Britain has yet to produce its own gangsta rap, that has not stopped the image coming across the pond. Earlier this month Mark Morrison (pictured) burst out from behind the blackened windows of his American car with a bodyguard shouting in an American drawl and ran into Marylebone Magistrates' Court where he was sentenced to three months in prison for threatening a police officer with a 23,000-volt stun gun.

The American influence on Morrison is unmistakable. Having spent his teens in Florida he still has the accent; he wears the heavy gold jewellery and lavish fur coats reminiscent of early rap artists, and he has broken into the US market. Even the weapon at the centre of the trouble was bought in America. As Bob Killbourn, editor of Blues & Soul Magazine, says: "The whole thing about Mark is that he thinks he is American."

So far, this is the closest a British star has come to the ghetto violence around which gangsta rap is based. Does this mark the beginning of yet another American trend in British music? If Morrison's promoters cash- in on his imprisonment they could be setting a precedent. "Hopefully the prompt action of the court will stamp it out," says Killbourn, "but it could give the green light to others if he comes out to $2m of promotion."