The establishment and mainstream media have been pointing the finger at everything between social media, gang grooming and now Drill music as the cause of what has been described by the Metropolitan Police as “a national emergency” in the streets of London. But attempts to diagnose the cause of the recent rise in knife crime is creating a damaging narrative surrounding Drill music. It is turning black self-expression and creativity into a scapegoat for an issue much bigger than its social outreach.
According to the Metropolitan Police, 2018 has seen over 132 knife, gun and acid attack related deaths. The highest wave of youth violence in the capital for over a decade. Now, three months in to 2019, this worrying epidemic sadly shows no sign of slowing down. Why the rate has accelerated in London in recent years is still left unclear. However, the Met Police and Scotland Yard have now turned their focus on the Drill genre. It has recently been revealed that as of January 2019, YouTube has removed over 100 videos uploaded by drill musicians at the request of London police.
Pioneered by musicians such as Chief Keef and Lil Durk, drill music is a form of trap-style rap imported from Chicago to South London in the early 2010s. Since then it has been propelled into the UK mainstream by the likes of Harlem Spartans, Zone2 and 150.
By no means is drill music an easy listen. There are themes of misogyny, graphic violence, contempt for the police and anti-establishment sentiments. Indeed, many drill artists don a balaclava on their YouTube music videos. They intimidatingly glare at the camera, rapping through aggressive movements and body language. This may perhaps may seem disturbing to the uninitiated listener. Lyrics recount violence, the thrill of using class A drugs, and the repercussions of trespassing a rival gang’s territory. “Blood on my shank, man keep it, clean it, use hot water and bleach it” raps Digga D in No Hook.
Nevertheless, to clumsily blame a subculture – which at its root is a medium of free expression – is offensive. This accusation disrespects the parents of victims, and the moral autonomy of the fans. It is also an ungrounded accusation against the black artists who make this music. Artists have been catapulted into a politicised debate which goes far beyond the outreach of their modest platform.
Scaremongering by telling us this genre incites acts of violence can be seen as an attack on black british culture. This is due to the fact that Drill comes from a proportionate working-class black population in London. It is not a coincidence that this is also the demographic most affected by knife crime. The war waged against drill music is not only an attack on freedom of expression. It also shows that we lack any real understanding of the roles that poverty and austerity play in youth violence. Blaming this wave of knife crime on drill music reveals how uninformed people have chosen the easy option. People in power refuse to take accountability for the socioeconomic causes of knife crime.
Drill music has become the unifying voice of the underrepresented working-class youth. In a city where public spending cuts affect youth centres, education and mental health services they are rendered vulnerable. They are exposed to the surrounding dangers that come with living in deprived areas. These marginalised communities have taken their anger and frustration of feeling ignored by the establishment and have channelled it through creativity.
Of course, the graphic content of drill music is highly questionable. As with all forms of art, we must talk about the complexity of the environment that begets them. Consider that teenagers have chosen to create this music as a result of their failure to identify with society. Attempts to censor the art depicting the bleak reality of life in London’s most deprived areas wilfully ignores the fact of the reality itself.
The spike in London murders is a result of repeated failures by society to affirm for working-class youth that it is a society worth being a part of. UK drill music is a rebellious act of self-expression, an amplification of the brutal and tough claustrophobia shared in disadvantaged communities across the capital. Going beyond the graphic lyrics, and swagger of the young rappers, drill music is a cry for help from deprived communities that can no longer be left ignored.
By Aliya Arman