The sheer mention of Tim Westwood stirs a reaction in most social settings equivalent of a bad smell entering a room. People explode with psychopathic fury at a broadcaster on a level which is unrivalled throughout the media of the last 20 years. The same facts lie at the cause of people’s problem with Westwood – he’s not black, he sounds ridiculous, he’ 54 years old and his dad was a vicar. What qualifies Tim Westwood, a broadcaster, to host and produce a radio show; a TV show and a YouTube channel dedicated to the culture of Hip-Hop?
A lot of you can stop reading now. You’ve heard everything you wanted to hear and probably aren’t interested enough to read further. However Westwood’s legacy will be one of a personality who has been judged like a fish’s ability to climb a tree, yet as someone who has systematically and personally fought the corner for the culture of Hip-Hop since before a lot of 1xtra’s target audience was born.
The news of Westwood being sacked by 1xtra didn’t come as too much of a surprise – a BBC radio station is understandably keen to appear relevant to its youth market and perhaps the above facts present a barrier for potential audience. A reflection of the changing landscape of Hip-Hop, perhaps, that authenticity and credibility are depleted values when compared to youth and freshness. It’s a stunt which was inevitable for the simple fact that it matters a lot more to 1xtra than it does to Tim Westwood.
It’s been discussed many times that Hip-Hop; more than a genre of music, is an attitude, an applied art form and a cultural ‘mirror’ when it appears in mainstream media. Westwood throughout his career has taken a ‘Hip-Hop’ approach to broadcast media. Securing a solid reputation DJ-ing in The Tunnel in NYC, getting a shout out on a Public Enemy album he garnered respect at the source. Then in the UK he made his first legal radio appearance in 1985, after years of pirate radio. Westwood was mentioned in the records which represented the first ‘burst’ of Hip-Hop in the 1980’s, and before he ever was introduced to main stream consciousness by the BBC Radio 1 Rap Show he had already founded Kiss FM, and set up his own production company Justice Entertainment which produced the BBC Open Space documentary Bad Meaning Good. Justice Entertainment continues to be Westwood’s home and stranglehold on his personal brand, with the BBC seemingly making an exception in allowing Westwood to produce his own radio shows.
The strongest evidence of this is Westwood’s YouTube channel. Started in 2007 Westwood understood very early on the fact that the internet is an archive, and if managed properly can allow a personality or brand to carve out a very controlled and exclusive space for content. TimWestwoodTV the YouTube channel currently boasts over 131 million views, however more importantly can boast the first official ‘BBC’ performance of many of the figures in Hip-Hip and UK Hip-Hop and Grime we now recognise as the pioneers of the culture and the genre. This will be Westwood’s legacy. The show’s monopoly on guest appearances meant that Westwood was sat across the table, producing the show when Notorious BIG made his first of a small handful of radio appearances in the UK. More recently his YouTube featured a new freestyle by emerging artist Mac Miller – of course it’s not for us to speculate the future of Mac Miller.
The point I’m trying to illustrate is that for all his ‘personality’ Westwood was never really the one in the spotlight. As a host Westwood’s job was to be at the very least interesting enough to listen to, to create a comfortable environment in which to welcome US artists to the UK, and to build a reputation amongst the stuffy and concerned BBC that Hip-Hop does have a place in mainstream media. People have been so confused about Westwood’s ‘role’ that they have recorded diss records aimed at him (as if he was an MC) an even shot at his Range Rover (as if he was involved in gang violence). These are extensions of the aforementioned public who cite his age, ethnicity and his background as reasons for why Westwood should not be part of Hip-Hop culture. Westwood is not a part of Hip-Hop culture. He is a broadcaster who did what was necessary to bring Hip-Hop music to a mainstream audience. He was successful in that aim, a whole generation owe Tim Westwood for bringing the most captivating and exciting genre of music of the time to our bedrooms and our consciousness.
Curiously, with the emergence of Social Media the values of authenticity and credibility do sometimes trump the ‘1xtra’ values of youth and freshness particularly in music based content. Looking at icons such as DJ Derek and David Rodigan and the countless number of rappers who are enjoying a renaissance in their music careers it appears in fact that the internet enhances an authentic and credible reputation. The internet is a content archive, and whilst immediacy and relevance will allow new-comers a kick-start to their careers like never before without building a respectable history or archive of work their legacy will be comparatively short-lived against the broadcasters, DJ’s and artists who lived the culture, broke down barriers and continuously ensured that their passions were protected from the swaying interests of a youth-hungry public service such as the BBC.
Without Westwood the BBC will have free reign over the way Hip-Hop culture is produced and presented. Westwood’s legacy and reputation will remain intact thanks to his archive of interviews, performances and other content which document one of the most turbulent era’s in music history. One thing is for sure, things will never be like this again: