There is a sub-genre of rap music known as drill currently causing controversy in the media and in government circles. This music has been blamed for the current wave of violence engulfing Britain’s inner cities, particularly in London. There has been a spike in the number of youth murders with the recent number being around 60 so far in London alone, this year. Just this week, a 23-year old drill rapper was murdered in a knife attack in Camberwell, South London. It is a sad and frightening trend as these are young lives being cut down prematurely. These deaths leave behind grieving families and friends with lifelong scars.
Drill is a sub-genre of hip-hop music which contains vivid accounts of violence and threats of violence. It is popular because it tells scary stories of life on the streets where one wrong choice could land you in jail or get you killed. Also, the wordplay can be very clever and the beat, catchy.
The London Metropolitan Police recently reached out to the social media giant, YouTube, to help in removing drill music from its platform, as the government believes it has a significant role to play in the rising number of youth murders. The Met Police believe the lyrical content in drill music glamourises knife attacks and gun violence. They believe gang members use these outlets to taunt each other which eventually spills out onto the streets.
This approach is not new, blaming art for social problems. In the early ’90s, ‘gangsta rap’, pioneered by rappers like Rakim and the group NWA, was in the spotlight for the crime wave in inner-city New York and Los Angeles. It was believed that the lyrics of gangsta rap promotes violence which played out on the streets. The police were worried and called for a ban on gangsta rap. It never happened as we live in a free society that respects all forms of art and does not allow the government to make moral choices for its citizens. If you ban gangsta rap, what about heavy metal, death metal, garage punk etc, some of which talk about drug overdoses and suicide?
This same discussion is now being had in Britain over drill music.
I think it is ludicrous to think music is the cause of the violence in London. Young people get involved in gangs and criminality not because they’ve listened to a particular genre of music, but because of their backgrounds and upbringing. These kids come from difficult backgrounds where criminality is seen as a survival tactic. Many of them grew up with no positive role models and very little positive life choices. Some have drug dependent fathers or mothers, absent fathers, from abusive households and mental health problems. It is these toxic elements that combine to create a criminal. This is where government resources need to be concentrated for a successful address of this problem.
In my opinion, the illegal drug trade sits at the core of the wave of youth deaths in the inner cities. These attacks are usually turf wars among various drug gangs for control of territory. These gangs may listen to drill music, but the music is not responsible for their actions. Did Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky and all the other infamous mob figures, who ran brutal gangs controlling cocaine and heroin distribution across America listen to rap or drill? The answer is no. Did the Kray twins, the brutal East London duo who ran sadistic protection rackets that brought fear to the streets of the capital, listen to rap or drill before they unleashed mayhem in the 1960s? The answer is no. The only common theme among all these infamous figures is their backgrounds, they all grew up in abject poverty with very little positive life choices.
Poverty is at the root of most social problems. It is a fact that poorer societies experience more violence than affluent ones. Some countries in Africa have seen more people die in brutal civil wars in a decade than relatively richer countries have seen in fifty years. Value for human life is low in economically deprived societies compared to affluent ones. Why should Peckham, South London be any different? This is a very deprived area of London’s inner-city, which has its own share of the current violence. The elements of this complex equation are poor housing, high unemployment, serious mental health issues, addiction and abuse in huge areas of our inner cities. Tackle these and you begin to unpick the problem.
Instead of pointing the finger at a genre of music, why not actually do something like improving employment prospects for the inner-city youth and actively create programmes that recruit from this talent pool. Put the inner city youth at the centre of positive change and support them with the tools they need. This is the way to tackle a problem, at the source. Criminalising a form of music is the lazy way out.