It's late on a Monday night: September 9, 1996 - might even be the early hours of Tuesday by now. In a tiny basement club, the Flavour of the Month hip hop night, run by the Choice FM rap show DJ, 279, is in full swing. It's become the hub of London's small but vibrant hip hop scene almost in spite of itself: the venue doesn't list the club in its press ads or on flyers, so the only people who know about it are listeners to 279's show, and the hundred or so regulars who turn up, month-in, month-out, for the tried-and-tested blend of live performance, open-mic freestyles, and DJ-spun anthems from hip hop's present and recent past.
There's sometimes an edge to the atmosphere at Flavour, but usually that's just down to the combative verbal sparring that makes the open-mic sessions such a draw. Tonight, though, is different. Hip hop is in crisis: the music blamed for all manner of societal ills by an ill-informed media looking for something to explain events on the other side of the globe. At this moment, in a Las Vegas hospital, Tupac Shakur is in a coma: details in this largely pre-internet world are still sketchy, but everyone here knows he was shot multiple times while riding in the passenger seat of his label boss's car on Saturday - no-one yet knows that, possibly right at this moment, he's having a lung surgically removed. Given his string of run-ins with the law and previous history of surviving life-threatening ordeals, many probably assume he'll pull through.