& opinion

Culture minister Kim "The Conscience" Howells has recently been branded racist and ignorant due to comments he made regarding "idiots" of rap culture. These "idiots", according to Mr Howells, are responsible for "glorifying gun culture and violence," citing garage outfit So Solid Crew as a prime example. While these outbursts arenít exactly racist, branding them ignorant is almost a compliment to Kim Howellsí obviously thoughtless rant. These statements are insulting to the studentship of Great Britain who embraces rap/hiphop every day of their lives, from Nelly and KRS One to Jay-Z and Ms. Dynamite.

The law of averages would agree that some gun crime idiots should exist among rap fans, but relating such a relatively extreme and abnormal incident to a popular medium like rap is to abandon all faculty of thought. He claims his children have listened to rap for the past 10 years, yet there have been no reports of the Howells progeny riding shotgun in daddyís Passat, leaving shell casings at the leafy suburban murder scene. It doesnít take genius to realise the murders of Charlene Ellis and Latisha Shakespeare Birmingham on New Yearís Eve were socio-economic issue rather than an issue of musical preference. If violent rap lyrics as an art form are being made a scapegoat, then surely this reflects badly on all the arts that have slightly provocative messages. Itís a surprise the thriving porn industry hasnít been singled out for blame where rising teenage pregnancy and STDs are concerned. The Sopranos hasnít been pulled from our screens for shamelessly glamourising organised crime. One only needs to stare briefly out of their windows to notice that reality is often stranger than fiction, man bites dog and all. The bottom line is that the people of Great Britain have experienced enough of this kind of art to be able to tell the difference between real-life and fiction. This includes listeners of rap music.

Statistics are widely available showing how popular rap is in white suburbia, and equally so in inner city estates. What black people face is a serious image crisis. If black people are more likely to live in deprived areas, more likely to be victims and perpetrators of crime, it is due to economics, not skin colour. People would move out of these areas if they could, except that economics, once again serve as a barrier. More so, black people are more likely to be associated in the media to these disconcerting elements of life. Turkish and Albanian gangs in London commit gun crime, rest assured they will not be sponsoring your next hiphop gig. None of this makes Kim Howells a racist, just a man who speaks before thinking.

The saddest thing is that the recent shootings prompted a debate which started years ago in the United States. That Great Britain has actually arrived at a stage where it has to debate the relationship between music and violence shows a decline in society. might have been hoped that after the Dunblane massacre gun crime would dissipate, or at least not reach proportions where New York and London are being compared for violent crime. Hopefully the events of New Yearís Eve will mark a defining moment, signaling the beginning of an end to this sad episode in British history.