This article was written by Akwasi Appiah and Busayo Twins
Whats happened so far?
by Akwasi Appiah
On Wednesday, YouTube, on request from the Metropolitan Police, took down over half of the ‘violent’ drill songs on their platform. Songs by artists such as 67, 1011 and Hemz have been targeted. Met Commissioner Cressida Dick stated that “Drill music is associated with lyrics which are about glamorising serious violence: murder, stabbings,” and thus is the reasoning behind the call to remove the videos. Drill music, which originates in Chicago, has become increasingly more popular in the capital with many young people saying it is a reflection of modern society in urban areas of London. It is a style of trap music, defined by ‘its dark, grim, violent, nihilistic lyrical content and ominous trap-influenced beats‘.
67 are one the most notorious drill artists it is yet to be confirmed if their videos will be removed.
ItsPressPlay an Instagram Drill promotion channel had a meeting with YouTube last week and shared a statement via an Instagram post that was recently taken down.
They anticipate that the videos will be put back up and if they are, it proves that the action taken was a political agenda to deflect from the realities of the cuts affecting the police department. As of the 30th of May there have been 37 stabbings in the capital. Numbers not seen in many years. Yet still only on the 24th of May were further cuts announced to police dog units in the capital and home counties.
Questions must be asked by the public on whether this attack by the Metropolitan police on drill music is something that should be condoned. For years Heavy Metal has been listened to by swathes of young people. Yet its content has been heavily focused on the ‘dark side’ openly discuss drugs, drug overdoses and suicide. In addition, questions must be asked as to where the requests will stop. At the time of writing this article, Drake and Pusha T have been caught up in a ‘rap war.’ Pusha T directly attacked Drake’s producer Noah Shebib who suffers with Multiple Sclerosis.
OVO 40, hunched over like he 80, tick tick tick,
How much time he got he sick,sick,sick
Many, even those who are frequent hip-hop listeners, would argue that this direct attack on someone deteriorating health is ‘below the belt.’ But within hip hop culture and rap culture anything goes and it is part of the culture. Many would not condone Pusha T’s words and it is unlikely to spark a wave of hate against those with MS. The majority of people listen to music, as a form of entertainment, and it does not transfer or even correspond with their day-to-day lives or behaviour. Where will the accusations and blaming end?
Let’s get into the Drill debate: A more in-depth analysis
by Busayo Twins
Removing content so abruptly can never be good. Not least because London’s youth crime has not officially been diagnosed with the “Drill-effect” for it to be the police’s primary focus. Though there’s a lot to be said about short-term plastering until more informed and matured strategies can replace it in the long-term, this could deepen existing tensions between communities and authorities. An attack on Drill is felt by some as an attack on lived experiences and identities. Drill Music, like every other genre, has the capacity to story-tell and often sheds light on the most chilling, personal truths of the artist. Often lyrics about violence reflect a reality which resonates with fans who appreciate the raw honesty. If you can relate then you’d consider it social commentary and if you can’t then you’ll be fixated on the beat.
We should also respect the actual talent that Drill artists can demonstrate. Their music wouldn’t have established a niche if it wasn’t considered good music. Content aside, there is lyrical genius involved, applaudable adlibs, and facilitating visuals that make the production ‘enjoyable’. Drill is still in its infancy in the U.K. so a lot of it’s creativity is yet to be explored, leaving it vulnerable to the same criticisms of its ancestors in Chicago. UK artists have found an opportunity to use their troubled lifestyles as therapy and entertainment material that may potentially save them from the darkness that lurks the London roads.
Music genres have no borders so one can opt to dabble in Afro-swing, rap or even pop music should the opportunity present itself. There is more to a person than their encounter with violence so naturally there is potentially more versatility in the pipeline. And even if they don’t, the truth is some people don’t have family-friendly experiences to broadcast on daytime TV.
Drill music is not the only music to incite violence or the drug trade. We can count the number of ‘successful’ Drill artists on two hands, so it’s influence is rightfully questionable. There is an argument about racial profiling of music to be had also. It’s no secret that this affects black artistry. Though black people aren’t confined to producing and listening to this type of music, in the climate of assessing Stop and Search, this may be an extension of state tactics to convey black criminality. Not long ago Grime faced the same conspiracies, notably demonstrated with the discriminatory Form 696 which was scrapped last year. The form was used to prevent music of violent origin from being performed by Grime Artists on the basis of the ethnicity of it’s audience. Now that Grime has proven has been endorsed by white people the country has been forced to be more accomodating. However, in desperation to be seen to be something about the increases in reported knife crime offences in England of recent, it looks like Drill Music will be used as the scapegoat.
Not much would have actually changed with this legislation but we never know the full story. With calls for a mental health approach to tackling youth violence from youth organisations, MPs and community activists, removing online content appears to further push the criminality narrative without offering any support to the individuals who may be seeking a better life. Drill music is very much on the radar of the government and this kind of music has always been used to implicate and convict people for crimes. In terms of consistency, the police would have to ‘keep the same energy’ for other music genres such as Rock Music that has a history of promoting violence and drug use. It’s clear the authorities are linking weaponized crime to ‘black culture’ and so will focus their attention on music coming from black male youths.
Note: Music should not be considered entirely separate from the umbrella term social media given the evolution of TV thanks to the likes of Youtube and instagram, though it still has a unique method of communication with its audience.
Now, separately from the police’s response, in a climate of killing and violence amongst youth in the UK where gangs and individuals have used social media platforms to document warfare we must review the sensitivity of our times.
Internalising imagery and content is not limited to music, but society more generally. Big brands and organisations spend millions of pounds on advertising each year to influence the way we think and feel. Why would we be immune to the effects of music but vulnerable to advertisements? In the context of our economic system, the former is selling a lifestyle and the latter, a product or service. For years, the likes of Nike and Adidas have benefitted off of the subtle voluntary promotion from talented artists who name drop and feature their brands excessively in videos, both in the UK and the U.S. Music is not one dimensional, it is not only a suppliers market where the intention of the creator takes precedence. It is also a consumer’s market where different consumers of varying vulnerabilities engage with content that the artist hasn’t the capacity to control. But if everyone analyses the impact of music based on their own experience without considering the various ways music can affect human beings we won’t be able to have an honest conversation on this topic.
Young people are like sponges. They are less able to process and break down content in a way that would make them less susceptible to what they see around them. When the same images and narratives are being shown of young black inner city males (and females) over and over again, they begin to internalise it. They start to limit their sense of self to what they see around them, both on and offline. Social media is part of your educational experience, helping to build your moral compass, politics and character. If everyone is consuming the same information then the online and offline world begin to reinforce each other, creating a self-fulling prophecy.
This is not to say there aren’t wider socio-economic forces that create environments of hostility and despair in the first place. Racism and classism are necessary preconditions of a capitalist society. The pressure of material accumulation puts ethnic minorities and the working classes at a disadvantage where these groups are willing to risk more to participate in the system.
The ‘rags to riches’ rhetoric is also part of the inner city culture in the U.K.; even if you aren’t broke you want to exaggerate your come up to get applauded for your efforts. Ironically being broke is not acceptable. Though the cost of living is exceptionally high and austerity in full effect, you’re still judged on what activities you can afford to partake in, price of clothes and your possessions. For young black males especially, peer pressure to “stack” money as quick as possible to enable extravagant purchases, respect and attention from women is really high.
Certain music intensifies these existing social pressures (but not limited to Drill by any means). Depending on how vulnerable the listener is to the content, whether a fictional or honest description, one can resort to extremes in order to obtain a purchasing power they perceive necessary. Very rarely is money talk not accompanied by violent talk because fear and ‘respect’ is essential for any underground business. With feared ‘olders’ grooming and recruiting impressionable young people into a life of crime that cultivates an appetite to violence, should these same young people turn to music later on we will hear the chilling tales of these trapsters-turned-rappers.
Surrounded by unaccommodating schools, derelict social housing, strained households, and abandoned youth services young people are forced to appreciate the glamorised versions of a dire situation provided online. They begin to relate to those of similar backgrounds who appear to be enjoying the fruits of their overnight labour. Artists do not have to explicitly endorse violence for young people to interpret it that way. Superficial association of money with success and the epitome of manhood helps to bridge the gap. The obsession with respectability politics and threats to resolve issues violently normalises fatalities and perpetuates toxic masculinity. If the same types of artists keep rapping about the same type of violence, without reflection, then it becomes an accepted part of that culture. Young people become desensitised and no longer even realise the music they listen to can be problematic, not just on the grounds of violence but in regards to shaping attitudes towards education, women and how they view themselves.
The fact they wanna take down YouTube videos and blame Drill music is just very lazy to me. Very very lazy.
— Michael 'Buck' Maris (@buckotb) May 29, 2018
Music labels, film producers, script writers and content creators have been criticised for failing to push diverse representation of black people in media. Not to deny the existence of gang culture and youth violence but to also shed light on the fact that young black people in this country are also lawyers, bankers, engineers, dancers, stylists, opera singers, writers, poets, plumbers, graphic designers etc. Black people are both thriving and suffering, black people are breaking new ground in different industries everyday and are also in prison. Black people are like all people, we have good days and bad days. However, if the media and artists keep distorting the narrative, then genres like Drill music become over scrutinised and often scapegoated for all the woes of Black Britain. What begins as honest artistic expression becomes part of a wider systematic agenda to demonise the black child and make them feel hopeless.
We should note that not all Drill music is of the same vulgarity or artistic aptitude. Some drill is so cryptic that you end up enjoying the adlibs only. Some have impressive visuals. Others are just disgusting. Even self-proclaimed drill supporters have selective tolerances for what they consider acceptable to listen to. Like all music Drill needs to be aware of the impact on its listeners. Where Grime and Rap are older categories in this country, they’ve developed creative ways to story tell that provide insight to a lifestyle without having to glamourise it. Drill is of a different nature because it’s the music-child of violent darkness. But it is still a young genre and considered a productive coping mechanism for those who need it.
At the end of the day, society wants a solution to youth violence and the government is responding in the only way it knows how. If they believe some content incites violence, and have worried parents and MPs demanding content be taken off then they will do it. Is it going to solve the issue? Of course not, but there was no way they were going to keep certain music online.
Let us know what you think? is there a connection between drill music and the stabbings? Do you think the Met are correct in taking down videos, or is there a secret political agenda?
Akwasi Appiah is a 3rd year Economics student at Queen Mary University. He has a strong passion for talent development and music. He has his own blog ‘akwasiappiah.com’ and has written for discussion outlets such as @OGGM_ and @DesiringGod.
Busayo Twins studied Bsc Economic History at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). In 2016 she was elected to General Secretary (i.e. President) of LSE Students’ union where she championed campaigns relating to low-income and minority ethnic students. As well as being a political journalist for The TCS Network she also sits on the National Executive Council of the National Union of Students (NUS). Busayo works for a charity that helps high potential pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds secure places at top universities. Besides a natural flare for social commentary, Busayo is an avid grime fan who spends her spare time either reading classic philosophical literature or attending the shows of her favourite MCs.