Tag: Music

London violence – Should we blame drill music?

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.

Drill - 67
The most famous UK drill group, 67 (Photo courtesy of facebook/@6ix7Official)

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.


UK Grime Music – at last a welcome to the mainstream

I was watching the Brits awards the other  night and was surprised at the many nominations given to artistes in the UK hip-hop genre (known as Grime). For the first time, we are seeing Grime music brought into mainstream recognition. As a lifelong hip-hop fan, this is welcome news. But who are these guys on the Grime scene shaking things up?

I came to the UK nearly 10 years ago from Nigeria with a head full of American hip-hop music, but was very keen to understand the UK scene too. I am used to listening to rappers like Rakim, Nas, Mobb Deep, Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg etc. I also preferred the darker version of the genre, which usually involves haunting stories from the gritty and unforgiving streets of inner city America. These tales fascinate me because I believe it is a direct result of historical racial injustices which have put young black men at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. Approximately 12–13% of the American population is African-American, but they make up 35% of the jail population. I believe poverty breeds criminality. So for me there is a social narrative in rap music which reflects the deep injustices, both historical and present,  in the American society. As a social observer, hip-hop music is a huge resource for me.

When I first started sampling UK hip-hop, I watched videos of London-based rappers on YouTube, and I thought they delivered their lyrics in a weird accent. I couldn’t understand some of their slangs and thought to myself, these guys need to clean up their accents before they can be taken seriously. I dropped off and continued listening to US rappers. A few years later, I stumbled by accident on a Youtube video of a guy called Devlin, who is like the UK’s Eminem, white rapper with angry and clever lyrics. While I trawled through his videos, I came upon one which featured a rapper called Giggs. This is where my fascination with UK rap began. Giggs was a deep-voiced, soft-spoken young man with very powerful lyrics that reflected the harsh life in London’s estates. Giggs is from Peckham, one of the most deprived boroughs of London.

Over the next couple of years, whenever I was catching up on hip hop videos on YouTube, I always check my favourite UK rappers, from Giggs to Joe Black, Ratlin and others.

Then in 2015 I came across at the video of a guy called Stormzy (real name Michael Omari), a tall 22 year-old black man from South London. It was on a track called Shut up. A very unusual kind of video, due to its simplicity, shot in a park with a hand held camera, a small bluetooth speaker and surrounded by his friends. In the video, Stormzy wears a red adidas tracksuit and lays out his lyrics effortlessly to a haunting tune. When I saw this video in 2015, it had around 700,000 views on YouTube, now it has over 48 million!

Stormzy (Picture Courtesy of thisisgrimeuk.com)

Stormzy is 24 years old now and has bagged himself a couple of awards over the past 2 years. He was also nominated for the Best Breakthrough Act at the 2017 Brits Awards. He has been collaborating with many popular artistes as well and seems to be at the top of his game at the moment, with his album Gang Signs and Prayers gone straight to number one in the UK album charts this weekend!

Another name in Grime music making the headlines is Skepta (real name Joseph Adenuga). Skepta performed at the recent Brits awards and wowed crowds with his energetic track, Shut down. Skepta won the Mercury Prize in 2016 for his album Konnichiwa, the first Grime artiste to be recognised for this award. He won the BET awards for Best International Act – UK as well as many others. Grime at last, seems here to stay.

Skepta (Picture courtesy of mixmag.net)

Many people write-off this genre of music as irrelevant and lacking in creativity. It’s only people who don’t get hip-hop that say this. These guys tell stories many don’t want to hear, I agree, but these stories are a reality for many in our society i.e. gang violence, drug trafficking and teenage murders. I consider these guys the messengers of a dark reality that we would rather sweep under the carpet. Drugs and gang warfare are a reality in many estates across London and all over the country, why pretend it’s not happening?

Many of these Grime artistes are surviving against all the odds, releasing albums independently of major record labels, using the power of social media (particularly YouTube and Twitter) to drive their audience. I am glad the UK society is finally giving these guys the recognition they deserve.