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Solidarity Opinions

Ban Drill? Why the problem is deeper than rap

By Harry Needham

Debate has raged amongst those in positions of power in Britain about whether or not we should limit the release of drill music as it incites and ‘glamourises’ gang violence. [1] The London Metropolitan Police Service argued that there has been a surge in violence that can be attributed to this music and that this music is the root of the issue. In reality, this is far from the truth. As examples of crime statistics in London, specifically knife crime, show us -there is little to no correlation in the rise of drill music and gang violence in London. When you break down the specific instances that have had connections drawn between violence and music, as you always should, the cause of the problems become obvious. The truth is that the roots of the violence go far beyond drill music, and it’s time we start unpacking that.

             In terms of recent statistics on crime, across the UK, there were 44,771 offences involving knives or sharp instruments between September 2018 and September 2019 a rise of 7% from the year previous.[2] In 2019 there was also 90 fatal stabbings in London, 23 of which were teenagers between the ages of 13-19.[3] Although this denotes that knife crime is on the rise in the UK as a whole the issues run deeper than the dismissive ‘violence-inciting’ drill music argument could ever account for. As shown by Appendix 1, Inner London has the highest percentage of individuals in low-income households in all of Great Britain.[4] We can assume that poverty and poor standards of living is a more likely cause of why so many young people in the capital are turning to illegal activity to get money that they otherwise do not have access to. Crime and gang politics that emanate as a result of economic inequality and marginalisation is what leads to violence and, consequently, the rise in knife crime. However, certain talented young people from London and other areas are finding a way to legitimately monetise this lifestyle, these politics and the lives they live.

Drill music is a fairly new development, but the concept and the debate are far from modern. In the mid 2000s there was a similar dispute emerging about the violence in Grime music and how it also was at fault for the issues in London. Drill has evolved in a similar way, from similar parts of the UK. Sonically, however, Drill is very different to Grime music and this is where the key distinguishing features lie between these two genres. Drill and Grime are just terms used to describe the instrumentals these artists rap on, yet the media and politicians have built and attached connotations of violence to these words. In reality, an artist could choose to say whatever they like over a drill beat and it would still be a drill song. However, given the locational roots of the sound and the genre, the content was always going to be heavily built around and inspired by lived experiences, just like Grime music. Just because these politicians don’t like the experiences that the artists recount it does not mean these experiences don’t occur or did not occur before drill music. There is also an argument to be explored that by scapegoating urban inner-city music it allows politicians to distract from failures of their government.  

What people in positions of influence are disregarding about drill music is the positive impact that it has had. For a majority of the people that are growing up in these urbanised areas, where austerity politics and a racialised socio-economic system has left them socially and economically marginalised, this music offers a release. But more than that, it actually serves as a way out. As the clout of the genre develops and stabilises, the artists are offered a way to make money legitimately. Given that the tracks in which these artists rap about violence and gang culture are the most popular, how can anyone fault them for merely exploiting and monetising it for other people’s sonic enjoyment? [5] This music is a vessel for these artists to claim back the power and forge a way out of a system that is not designed to suit them. The war waged on drill also seems to be naïve to the wider audience of drill music. Blame for inner city problems, predominantly violence, is placed on drill but what about the white urban areas where this music is also incredibly popular? An assumption that drill is the cause of inner-city violence conveniently ignores that there is no correlation between the popularity of drill music in middle class areas and subsequent violence. Thus, those in positions of power need to start looking into and understanding the benefits that urban music can have for the urban population and how this music is doing far more for these people than years of prejudice and austerity.


References

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/may/29/youtube-deletes-30-music-videos-after-met-link-with-gang-violence

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-51459553

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-51459553 & Appendix 2

[4] See Appendix 1

[5] https://www.city.ac.uk/news/2020/may/drill-music-offers-a-viable-escape-for-urban-youths-study-shows-that-criminalising-it-does-more-harm-than-good

Appendix:

Appendix 1:

Appendix 2:


About Harry Needham
Harry is completing an MA in Contemporary History at the University of Birmingham and holds a Bachelors in Ancient History with History at Swansea University. Predominantly, his research looks at understanding the relationship between Race, Racism and Power whilst also focusing on the impact of popular culture. His undergraduate thesis analysed the relationship between folk music and youth activism in the 1960s and this relationship in the wider context is a vein of study he is continuing to follow.

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