SO far as is known from available archival evidence, William Topaz McGonagall never wore the archetypal rapper's uniform of back-to-front baseball cap, gold neck-chains, and duvet-sized trainers. Nor does history reveal whether the Dundonian doggerel-dealer habitually referred to women as ''bitches'' and men as ''homeys''. McGonagall as a wanton abuser of the Oedipal swear-word? Impossible to confirm.

Nevertheless, there is something about his repetitious use of infantile rhyme and his preoccupation with sudden death and simplistic social comment that would naturally strike a chord with the rap genre's more dim-witted practitioners.

Which may explain why some American academics - those without more pressing matters to attend to, evidently - have just conferred godfather-of-rap status on the infamous enemy of poetry. Ninety-five years after his penurious death in 1902, the English department at Chicago's North Park University argues that ''McGonagall's appalling abuse of metre makes his poems quite suitable as rap lyrics.''

It also advises readers: ''Do not be deceived by a merely casual or cursory examination of his poems. They are far, far worse than you can imagine without careful study and reading aloud.''

Accordingly, an American recording company with a sense of humour, Santaphobia Inc, has released The William McGonagall Rapping Masterclass for sale over the Internet. Devotees of McGonagall are well served elsewhere in various cul de sacs on the Information Superhighway.

Not unnaturally, the latest upsurge in McGonagall's popularity has been welcomed by the William Topaz McGonagall Appreciation Society, based in a Dundee pub near where McGonagall originally lived. Chairman Alex Gouick said: ''We are delighted that there is now such interest in McGonagall. It is well merited and not before time. We started the society to raise McGonagall's profile six years ago, and each year we have seen more and more interest.

''He is unique and his poetry is totally unapproachable. I had never considered him as a rap artist before. But if people can see that in his work, it proves that he has a lot more going for him than people thought.''

McGonagall's new-found fame has prompted plans in Dundee to establish a permanent memorial to the man who became known as the world's worst poet, and a number of events are planned to raise his profile in the coming year.

McGonagall's career began in Dundee as an amateur Shakespearian actor. However, he developed in interest in poetry, as he recalled in his memoirs: ''The most startling incident in my life was the time I discovered myself to be a poet, which was in the year 1877.''

The former weaver went on to inspire startled giggles among the Scottish public with his many accounts of the tragedies of the industrial era.

McGonagall travelled to New York to make his reputation, but failed and had to be rescued by Dundee patrons. Almost 100 years later, he has eventually cracked the American market.

If he's going to persist on a long-term basis, he'll have to change his name, though. Yo, mofo! Bum-rush tha show wit' Notorious Willem 2Paz MC G.O.N.E!