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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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Solidarity Opinions

Black British rappers don’t have the luxury to not be political

By Tzeitel Degiovanni

Dave the rapper’s stunningly poignant performance of his single Black at the 2020 BRIT Awards last week exposed something deeply concerning about pockets of the British population. The 300+ Ofcom complaints received following Stormzy and Dave’s performances reveals a sad truth – you can sing for us, you can dance for us, you can win awards for us…but don’t you dare criticise us.

What the comments indicate, and what hundreds of angry tweets exploding on twitter that day highlight, is that many white Britons refuse to accept the voices, experiences and struggles of non-white bodies. And what they absolutely refuse to accept or acknowledge is how their privilege allows them to do that. White people want their music, their performance, their style… but they don’t want their voices, their experiences or their politics.

Take the example of this young white British man on Twitter. About the performance, he wrote

“I don’t like Stormzy because he started talking about politics. I now don’t like Dave because he did the same. What happened to Uk rap/grime? Keep politics out of music”

Indeed, what did happen to UK rap/grime scene? Clearly one thing is that its roots in jungle, dancehall and hip-hop, all of which developed out of Black British, Caribbean and African-American communities respectively, have been erased by many listeners. I thought about how privileged this young man was, to request these successful Black rappers ‘keep politics out of music’. Rappers who were born and raised in London boroughs like Croydon and Brixton to Ghanaian and Nigerian parents, their lives shaped and influenced by their experiences as young Black men in communities directly affected by problematic race relations for decades.

White listeners often express feeling ‘hard’ when listening to grime. It is often angry, emotionally loaded and stirring. To let you in on a secret, this isn’t because Black people are naturally angry. Paul Gilroy, British historian and founding Director of the Centre for the Study of Race and Racism at University College London, articulates how Black music possesses an inner philosophical doctrine and morality that confronts power with truth, helping to ‘develop black struggles by communicating information, organising consciousness’ and creating new forms of political agency. Grime has its own similar inner philosophy and ethics encoded within its aggressive sound.

Emerging in the council estates of East London boroughs of Newham, Tower Hamlets and Hackney in the early 2000s, where 42% of the Capital’s social housing was located, the birth of this genre coincided with the New Labour’s plans to regenerate the city. Done by developing new residential apartments, intensifying the city’s CCTV surveillance and criminalising non-criminal behaviours (i.e. ‘hanging around’) through punitive measures like ASBOs and police dispersal powers, black working-class neighbourhoods were exponentially targeted. The effects of these were crippling, felt for decades to come.

Between April 2018 and March 2019, you were over 9 times more likely to be subjected to stop and search as a Black individual than if you were white; with the 3 Black ethnic groups having the highest rates of stop and search out of all 16 individual ethnic groups.[1] Figures released by the Home Office showed that 12% of incidents involving the use of force by police were against Black people, who make up only 3.3% of the population[2]. A disproportionately high stop and search rate, followed by a disproportionately high violence rate, and it doesn’t take too long to piece together the dangerous and racist reality. To add insult to injury, austerity measures over the past 15 years have left these same communities in destitution and despair, with Theresa May’s cuts on public services in housing, education and healthcare impacting the lives of grime’s artists and listeners the most. Over these two decades, from 2002 to 2018, no more than 6.6% of Black Britons have made it into further education (2017/18), compared with a white British rate that has never dropped below 76.8%.

This reality is important for understanding grime musically, politically, and as a youth culture. Having been described as a ‘sound of disillusionment, resentment and despair’ (Collins), its lyrics are inscribed with the reality of young Black working-class life in Britain, shaped by intersecting forms of social exclusion in education, housing, employment opportunities and racist policing. This is fundamentally what the young man on Twitter missed when he complained that his easy listening experience was interrupted by politics, and something that non-Black people need to be aware of when listening to rap and grime for pleasure. When blasting it through a gym set or listening to the Top Boy soundtrack on the commute to work, we simply cannot complain when the Black artists we are listening to, in a genre they created, start talking about their Black experiences. We enjoy these sounds whilst being totally unaffected by their political reality, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have one. Histories of origin are histories of power, and in colonialist tradition, we see people continue to take what they want from other cultures and complain about and erase what they don’t. As Dave aptly raps in Black, “You don’t know the truth about your race cos they[re] erasing it…”.

For its main practitioners (marginalised young Black men) grime is a liminal space where they can express their frustration and growing pains of impoverished adolescence with limited resources and create music that represents their lives – played out in youth clubs, on street corners and around council estates. This is why artists like Dave passionately describe life under a Tory regime in their music; narrating harrowing stories of his mother, an NHS worker “struggling to get by”, with May’s policies having “brought the heart of the nation to its knees”. Workers are “underpaid, understaffed, overworked and overseen by people who can’t ever understand how it feels to live life like you and me”. Black British rappers, and especially Black British rap and grime artists, simply do not have the luxury to not be political. And for them to use their elevated platforms in the UK music industry to shed light on issues that have shaped their own lives, as well as the lives of their communities and those who still face socio-economic barriers, is something that should be applauded.

Anyone who cannot see this, or who doesn’t want to, is wrapped up in a privilege so white it is blinding. A privilege rooted in a position unaffected by and unfeeling towards racial inequality or social injustice, both personally and communally. To demand these artists not draw from their own experiences, not to make music about their communities and not to use their platform to unsilence the silenced experiences of racism in Britain is one of the grossest privilege and disillusionment. And to claim that they themselves are being racist, like the 300+ Ofcom complainers did on the night of the BRIT awards, demonstrates the urgency of the vast re-education needed in Britain if it is ever going to claim openness and inclusivity, or that it is ‘the least racist country’ in the world. As Dave said, the least racist is still racist, and that’s still a problem.

[1] https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/crime-justice-and-the-law/policing/stop-and-search/latest#by-ethnicity

[2] ibid

#BRITAwards #Stormzy #Dave #UKgrime #Ukrap #austerity #politics