Young, gifted... and Mac

EVEN when she's sitting at ease on her sofa, sipping coffee from a pint glass, Laura McCrum's self confidence can take your breath away. There's a stack of hip-hop posters lying on the floor between us and the soulful voice of a Scottish singer called L-Marie provides a moody soundtrack from the stereo, when suddenly McCrum leans forward. "You and I could just sit here and knock out a track right now and put it on the internet," she says. "There are loads of people doing it."

Mercifully, it's a threat she doesn't carry out, but this woman is an inveterate performer whose elegance and poise could carry her through the most unpromising situation. We're in Linlithgow, for God's sake, a prime cut of traditional small-town Scottish life.

Yet here, under the crowstep gables of her tiny flat, McCrum - an endlessly enthusiastic radio presenter of 28 - is inducting a cynical hack of 40-odd summers in the rudiments of urban music.

It's a job she's getting used to, because spreading the word about black music in Scotland is McCrum's particular passion. Call her an optimist or a fool, but along with Mel Awaisi, her business partner in an organisation called Urbanscot, she confidently believes that "the next big urban artist is coming from Scotland".

To realise the improbable dream, McCrum helps runs a website, showcases acts in clubs and on CD, offers management services and even goes into schools to teach the beat.

The odds seem stacked against her. There are plenty of sceptics who doubt the existence of an authentic black culture in Scotland. McCrum's birthplace Broxburn is no Bronx or Brixton. For the daughter of a Kenyan mother and a Scottish father, there was no large, black cultural community to fall back on in the Eighties and Nineties when she was growing up. On the contrary the colour of her skin set McCrum apart from school mates whose conversational bottom line was too often, "Well you would say that, you're black." Even now, white Scots can meet her with something approaching incomprehension. It's not long since she was in Stornoway, teaching hip hop to schoolkids. "I said, 'Any questions?' One girl put her hand up and said, 'Miss, have you ever been involved in a drive-by shooting?' Now that's funny. But if you looked at it under a microscope you'd end up wondering where that came from. That was the first thing she wanted to ask me. I was like, 'I've maybe been involved in drive-by shopping.'"

This week McCrum's missionary zeal reaches a new level when she introduces Black Street, a six-part series on BBC Radio Scotland which will showcase black music from a Scottish perspective, and feature homegrown artists in blues, jazz, soul, R&B, funk, disco, reggae and hip hop.

McCrum is convinced that aspiring Scottish acts of all ethnic backgrounds are moving into the urban scene, just as white and black soul acts pushed through the door opened by Tamla Motown in the 1960s. True, a few of these newcomers offer little more than a comedy name (step forward Bigg Taj of Glasgow) and there are plenty of mindless imitations of Eminem. But others, she insists, are "diamonds in the rough" and need only a little professional guidance to find the bigger audience they deserve.

Her own tastes run to the more soulful artists, Glasgow's L-Marie, Adele - a singer by night, a medical student by day - and Raff, a Scottish/Italian soulman who recently decamped to London in search of fame and fortune. But the rappers too can make her eyes twinkle with delight. At a recent club night she introduced Mellow'd Elements - "Arbroath's hottest act since the smokie" - and they brought the house down. Who needs Public Enemy and Long Island when you download this sharp and funny stuff which has a real east coast accent? Even if it is performed by young fellows called Big Geesus and Stevie Lovebone.

LIKEWISE, IT'S EASY for urban novices like me to warm to Steg G, from Arden in Glasgow, who featured heavily on the Urbanscot website last week. Enraged by Colin And Justin On The Estate - a Channel 5 series which invited two well-fed interior designers to tart up some of Glasgow's most notorious council housing - Steg G responded with his rap entitled 'Schemes'. It's a funny and impassioned two-fingered salute on behalf of local residents: "We say Glesca, you say Glasgow, but we are its beating heart." The video? Pure class, man.

For McCrum, like the artists she promotes, there's an unquenchable desire to perform, to be out there. The daughter of teachers - Lawrence and Mukami - most of her childhood was spent in West Lothian and at Mary Erskine's school in Edinburgh, though summers were spiced up by long holidays with her mother's family in Kenya. She learnt saxophone as a child and would have trained as a ballet dancer if her teacher hadn't pointed out (McCrum assumes a Miss Jean Brodie voice) "you're far too curvy - you have that African bottom". She sang on the Edinburgh Fringe with Afridonia, a vocal group her mum had put together; and her secret love of Dr Hook was inherited from her dad.

After a brief stint at Queen Margaret College she moved on to Los Angeles to study drama at UCLA - but jacked it in for a job in radio. A couple of years later, with a husband and young daughter in tow, her Swahili landed her a job at Capital FM in Kenya, presenting the breakfast show. She only left because she felt Savannah, her daughter, would fare better at school in Scotland. In West Lothian, when her marriage began to fail, she turned to stand-up comedy to play out her anxieties.

And now McCrum has returned to her first love - music and dance - and tackles it with her overwhelmingly positive attitude, which turns difficulties on their head. Of course the urban scene is macho, she says, but "forewarned is forearmed". She's learnt to enjoy that kind of thing.

"My rule of thumb is to rule out the rehashed and reproduced stuff - 'ma bitches', 'ma bling', 'ma car' and so on. But there is some intelligent stuff that makes me laugh."

At school she says she enjoyed reading Shakespeare. "Now when I come across an artist who can pick up on something as simple as iambic pentameter and put that into their track I can tell that someone has taken a little bit of time, and is interested in doing it, and not just rehashing clichs. If one of these artists is going to use the term bitch in a funny sense, or with a reverse humour, it's not going to offend me."

It's like comedy, she explains. You can turn things on their head to get a laugh, without being offensive. "When I was younger my dad was the spitting image of Howard Marks and coming through customs every year from Nairobi was hilarious. He would be stopped every time. In those days, you couldn't get traditional Kenyan foods in this country - flour for making chapatti for example. So I would have four kilo bags of white flour in my suitcase, which my mum had given me to carry.

"I made up a sketch about the flour and dad looking like Howard Marks. In that way I brought in a lot of black context and a lot of African things. It was good. I used to get great responses out of that, without having to resort to asking, 'How lazy are black people?'"

McCrum is incensed that in small-town Scotland she still encounters the casual racism that caused her so much offence in childhood. It's there, she says, "right there on the High Street. And I'm not very big on arguing about car parking spaces. Six months ago I was told to go back to my own country, which always amuses me, because Scotland is my own country and I have a very Scottish accent."

She has learnt though that prejudice comes from all sides. "In America I had black guys saying to me: 'You should hang out with your own', which I found really hard. My dad's white and my mum's black, my own culture is both. To be told that I should only hang out with black people is racism, but just in a different way. It takes you aback."

McCrum is a paradox. For all her confidence in herself and her clarity about her background, she is not sure where she will finally put down roots. Probably not in Scotland, though she would always call it home. "Isn't that a typically Scottish thing?" she wonders. "Scots have always been able to go out there and travel.

"I was in Barbados a couple of years back and I found this monument to a Scots regiment. You forget about Scotland's empire. But look at George Street in Edinburgh - it was built by merchant traders, I went to a merchant school. These were people who went out around the world, travelling and exploring, and part of that is what I have inherited in my nature.

"There is that assumption that you get married, you have kids, you start work and then you can't travel. Bullshit. I won't ever feel tied."

• Black Street, BBC Radio Scotland, Tuesday 8.05 to 10pm. www.urbanscot.com