Drill music is something that has become increasingly popular with the youths of Britain. It is a style of ‘trap music’ (a style of Southern Hip-hop music that is typified by double/triple-time sub-divided hi-hats, heavy sub-based layered and other electrical instruments), that originated in the early 2010s in the South-side of Chicago. The lyrics usually depict the dark, violent, gritty and uncomfortably reality of crime in urban environments.
Drill music in the UK (‘UK drill music’) is a subgenre of American drill music and road rap that originated in 2012 in the South London district of Brixton. Unfortunately, according to the Metropolitan Police, the rise in the popularity of UK drill music seems to have coincided with the rise of violent crime in London.
The Metropolitan police seem to have taken the battle to the streets by issuing prominent UK drill music artists Skengdo and AM, by issuing them with a nine month prison sentence, which has been suspended for two years for breaching a gang injunction issued in August 2018. The injunction was breach when by Skengdo and AM performed their song ‘Attempted 1.0’ at their London concert in December 2017. A prison sentence has never been issued before in relation to the performance of music in the UK.
Skengdo and AM released a song a called ‘Attempted 1.0’along with two other members of their Brixton-based group ‘410’. The song refers to alleged historic conflicts with members of rival crews ‘Moscow17’ and ‘Harlem Spartans’. The rival crews are situated quite closely together (a mile away to the north). The lyrics in ‘Attempted 1.0’ refer to the rival crew members by name and contain lyrics such as “[y]ou don’t want war, you’re shook of it/ Hella’ man dash when their friend got roofed (dashed)”. Consequently, on the face of it, as these rival crews live in such close proximity (one mile from each other), one could somewhat understand the Metropolitan police’s stance in viewing these lyrics as inciting violence. As a result, the members of the 410 were seen as a gang and an injunction was served stating that their actions, “including but not limited to the production of drill music videos … have amounted to gang-related violence”.
The injunction will be in force until January 2021 and it prohibits the relevant members of 410 from entering the SE11 postcode (this is very close to where the members live). The Judge had refused to grant the Metropolitan police’s request to ban the members from the SE1 London area.
The ban has meant that UK drill artists such as Skengdo and AM have had to choose between performing the songs that their fans want to hear (such as Attempted 1.0) or protecting their freedom by creating new music which limits their creative expression. Skengdo and AM have stated that they felt there was no other choice but for them to breach the injunction, as they did not have money to fight it and their music is part of their livelihoods.
The Metropolitan Police have been actively working with companies such as YouTube in the last year to take down UK drill videos that they consider too violent. They believe that these violent videos are perpetuating the knife crime amongst the youth by glorifying and explicitly describing the illegal and brutal activities that many youths from the urban community know too well.
Due to the Metropolitan Police’s actions to try and control the content of UK drill music, some artists such as Russ (with his song Gun Lean), have been influenced to create more mainstream drill music that seems more positive and uplifting. However, only time will tell whether more UK drill artists will start to create music with less violent imagery in order to conform and avoid the possibility of punitive action.
Nevertheless, the fact the Metropolitan Police has decided to partake in a campaign to censor UK drill music, has garnered backlash from such organisations such as Liberty and Index on Censorship. These organisations refer to the long-standing history of attack against any genre of popular music (rock n roll and punk music) that goes against the norm. However, some people state that this goes further than the suppression of any genre of music and refer to the historic suppression of black music throughout the last century (jazz, hip-hop, trap music, UK garage, grime music and drill music). Each of these genres/ sub genres of music seem to have brought to the forefront a reality to mainstream society that was deemed immoral or unideal. As a result, one must ask whether drill music is the cause of the increase of violent youth crime in the UK, or is it just a by-product of the increase in violence?
It will be interesting to see how the Metropolitan police continue to tackle what it believes to be the cause of an unprecedented increase in gang, knife and youth crime through the laws on censorship or whether it will be persuaded to let UK drill artists be free to express whatever resonates with them.
Article by Fatima Amedu a Southampton University LLB graduate and intern at Lawdit Music