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 unsolved.
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. …