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Tim Westwood: He's got the ill communication

Nobody - rapper or otherwise - has patter like Radio 1's hip-hop silverback

Crash. Tinkle. Boom. Sorry, BOOM. "This one's going out to my students struggling in education to get a qualification . . . everyone standing on a street corner, doing it from a love for money . . . we got the new Eminem, he's on the relapse . . . If it's your birthday, holla at us now."

Tim Westwood is 51. He presents Radio 1's rap show, now known as Westwood With Goldfinger (Saturdays, 9pm-1am).

"I'm in the Forbes list, yeah/I got women in Queens, Bronx and Harlem/Girl I really love it how you pop that thang/Rock that thang/ Lock that thang."

His father was once the Bishop of Peterborough.

"This week we popped the Mobo Best Club DJ. Now, I ain't gonna front, I was really taken a-back. I popped a joint last year, this one is my fifth, I got too many around the office so I'm putting a couple on eBay now. But it was like, I was mad surprised, it was a beautiful thing. And that was an award voted for by the people, so I want to thank my people for that."

He is in the top 20 of the Daily Mail hack Quentin Letts's new book, 50 People Who Buggered Up Britain. Letts doesn't like the way Westwood has "so immersed himself in the music of black rappers and American-style hip-hoppers that he has started to talk like one".

Here is one of these "black rappers", interviewed on the Rap Show a fortnight ago: "I think Obama is the change that's really needed. Not just because he's a black man but because he's an educated black man . . . The regime now, they've had their run and they did a horrible job, one of the worst jobs ever in public office . . . I'm not a politician or anything, but I think that he can better our relations worldwide."

That was Jay-Z. This is Westwood, to a listener: "[Brrng brrng] Hey baby, just phoned up to say happy birthday, girl. Do you know who this is?"

"Yeah, is it Westwood?

"Ah ha ha, how you know that?"

"Well, who else does it sound like?"

No one but Westwood talks like Westwood. Nobody else couches their on-air voice in 15 layers of echo in the same way as he wraps his skinny frame in XXXL T-shirts and baggy denim, surrounding that voice with sound effects of cars zooming, bombs exploding, glass smashing. Why does he do it? Well, he's a radio DJ, daddio. It's the same reason that Tony Blackburn smarmed, Jimmy Savile now-then-now-thenned, and Chris Moyles (salary somewhere in the region of £650,000) pretends to be an ordinary, working-class northern lad, playing to the lowest common denominator of booze, birds and casual homophobia.

Like them, Westwood has his own patter. Unlike them, he has been subverting urban and suburban teenagers' bedrooms for nearly two decades, his total immersion in hip-hop culture sending a message to young people up and down the country that they don't have to be bound by the traditional British shackles of accent or class or where they live.

If he winds people up by "trying to be black", it says more about them than it does about him. Whatever. Westwood doesn't pay any attention to these haters, he just gets on with the job. Let's hear it, as one might say, for our brother from another mother.

Antonia Quirke is away

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Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2008 issue of the New Statesman, The death of Gucci capitalism