The insane thing is I am a nineteen year old Londoner but even still, when I think of London youth culture, I place myself outside of it. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the outskirts where ‘London’ can be interchanged with ‘Kent’ in my postal address depending on how I’m feeling. But I always convinced myself that I would be this way even if I lived in inner London council flats. That I would still be anti-drugs, anti-violence, anti-deets even if I grew up seeing it around me.
My brother has always told me I need to be more understanding and I’ve been trying. It wasn’t until 2017 that I started listening to UK music. Yes, I missed all of early J Hus. I wasn’t around for ‘Lean and Bop’ or ‘Samantha’. The first London song I ever listened to by choice is ‘Aladdin’ by Not3s. And as most of you know, that song bangs so of course I listened to more. I was listening to the AfroBashment playlist on Spotify that promised to serve me all the latest UK bangers. And that it did. It didn’t take long before I was really into it and I surprised myself with how much of a basic black Londoner I’d turned into. I think it helped that I was hanging out with a bunch of black yutes for the first time in, well, ever. The slang rubbed off on me in a matter of weeks.
But the lyrics to those songs were shallow and superficial. They didn’t talk about the struggle, but instead gyaldem and luxury lifestyle. So, I remained unapologetically judgemental of their fast money mentality. I don’t remember exactly when I first learned about drill music. It might have been at a party or maybe it was watching Nella Rose – who even knows. The first time I heard it, I didn’t have an opinion. By the time I’d heard a lot of it, it was all sounding the same. Dark beat with intense chord progressions and aggressive lyrics. The songs were long and they didn’t tend to have a chorus or hook, or if they did they were hard to detect, which just made the songs feel even longer. I constantly wondered how people learned every word to drill songs. It felt like there were too many words in a verse and then on top of that, like 4 or 5 verses. Upon actually listening to the lyrics (and having my brother translate some heavy slang and references to things I wouldn’t know about), I came to realise it was violent. Like really violent.
And suddenly, all the news headlines of ‘young black boy killed in Kennington’ made sense. The whole of London youth is listening to this and you’re telling me this place isn’t going to become just a tad more aggressive? As if the lyrics don’t brag about how many times they were able to sink their weapon into flesh while marvelling at the fact that the guy still lived to see daylight after. I’m sorry???? Is that supposed to be normal???
But I decided to mind my business, continuing to discover more artists from this new afroswing genre that I’d found. I just decided they can do their thing and I’ll do mine – we lived in separate worlds and I just didn’t care for theirs. But the more other people started to pay attention to the effects of drill music on youth violence, the more I couldn’t ignore it. I thought it was just me who thought there was something completely off about it all but then the news headlines came; rumours of police removing certain music videos from YouTube that they deemed to be ‘negatively influential’. When I saw all that, I knew I was on the right path. Yes, I wanted to explore London culture but my decision to stay away from drill music was a wise one.
And then was the retaliation. The first one I saw was on popular Instagram account @imjustbait – a picture of a news article talking about the romanticisation of gang lifestyle in drill music, drawing it closely to the recent stabbing of a kid. The caption was laced in contempt and sarcasm, all the comments underneath following suit. I saw several more of these over the next few weeks, from the same account but many others also, reposted on people’s snapchat stories and surfing the whole digital world. Next came the tweets.
One Twitter user complained that a drill rapper named Sav12 saved an abducted girl and it went unreported, yet those same news outlets are quick to report drill music for its contribution to violence amongst youth. Another complained that drill duo, AM and Skengdo, were constrained from saying or doing anything that incited violence, his statement followed by a vomiting emoji to display his disdain.
I was confused.
This person was actually upset that this country’s government was effectuating its duty to protect the people by preventing people from performing violence-endorsing hand signs.
But these are the same people who turn around and complain that the government don’t do anything to stop youth violence.
Others blatantly denied the link between drill music and violence.
But irrespective of Black Twitter’s eager fingers, the police, media, and government kept doing their thing.
I can’t lie to you lot. I was more than pleased, innit.
I mean, I was never a fan of this drill stuff to begin with. I was at an age where I was finally attending motives outside of my CCN (Caucasian Christian neighbourhood) and I was witnessing things I’d never seen in my life. I didn’t know any better than to blame it on the one thing everyone seemed to have in common: music.
And that’s it, guys. That’s the blog post.
Nah brother, I’m joking.
I saw this.
The thread did go on a lot more and I’ll do my best to summarise it, however, if you do want to read it yourself (and I highly recommend that you do), you can find the thread by clicking here.
The thread essentially painted a gruelling picture – an unfortunately common scenario of a man with nothing to lose but his reputation. No job, no money, can’t get hired because he’s already been to prison, has lost loved ones, and is, most likely, going through PTSD. He mentions how pages such as thestreetblogs and UDN keep track of what’s happening on roads, and how hypermasculinity can’t help but to play right into the hands of that. Then on top of that, youth clubs are being closed down left, right and centre so people who come from broken homes fall right into the arms of the road. And finally, police cuts in the places where police are needed the most; naturally, there is a certain freedom people feel when it comes to strolling about with one bundesliga machete.
I don’t even know why I just wrote that.
And yet I had a chance to change it and I left it there so, was it really a mistake?
When you take all these things into consideration – the poverty, the closing down of the youth clubs, the cuts to the police departments, the hypermasculinity and the pages that feed it, lack of therapy for those dealing with PTSD – drill is NOT the only nor the main factor contributing to youth violence and you’d have to be reading this with your eyes closed to still think so. While I do think drill music is the main thing desensitising people to the violence (what with catchy lyrics like ’17 with a .38, praying that they come my way’ and every A1fromthe9 lyric ever), you can’t cure the sickness by getting rid of the symptom.
And that’s that real real.
A lot of people see it as a cycle. The violence causes drill music because they’re just rapping about the life they live, and the drill music further incites the violence. But you have to understand: the violence is and always will be the starting point of the cycle. Ones you get rid of that, the drill music stops. Not the other way around.
Even still, just for the sake of saving your own humanity and not losing yourself to the ‘warm’ embrace of the streets, listen to Mayhem. Listen to Mayo. Listen to YM. Listen to Box 12, Poppy, and Young Dizz. I, personally, don’t listen to drill like that, but if I did, these are the drill rappers I’d be listening to.
I’ve stopped denying that there is systematic oppression – there is. But, and not to sound too much like Kanye, you will only be oppressed if you allow them to oppress you. I know it’s not as simple as it sounds. I know it’s not black and white. I know you think I can’t see outside my narrow box of privilege. I’m not saying it’s easy and I can’t pretend to know what it’s like.
But I know this one thing: if you can dream it, you can live it. Set your sights on things bigger than the title the UK streets gave you. ‘Driller’, ‘shoota’, and ‘hitta’ are not the names you’ll amount to. And yes, this may just be some random blogger’s vision for your life. You don’t even know who I am and you’re not in any way indebted to me. But this is bigger than me and it’s bigger than yourself. I promise you right now, this cycle won’t end until we end it. And I know that you think that you, the one, changing your life is not going to influence them, the many. I’m going to go ahead and ask you this (since drill rappers are always asking ‘how many times?’): how many individuals who changed lives, how many Muhammad Ali’s and insert-other-inspirational-person-here’s do you think said their change wouldn’t effect generations after them? I’m not promising you that you’ll be the one to revolutionise disenfranchised youth. I’m just saying you’ll never know until you try.
Remember this: it starts with one.
Live in Peace,