London Drill music once again made the headlines after the death of aspiring rapper Siddique Kamara on the 1st August 2018. The rapper also known as Incognito and SK, was killed along with two others injured in Camberwell, South London. At the age of 23, Incognito became the second member of the drill music group Moscow17 to die on Warham Street, Camberwell within a 3 month period. Rhyhiem Ainsworth Barton, 17, also a member of Moscow17, was found with a fatal gunshot wound on Warham Street in May.
The murdered rapper Incognito’s group- Moscow17’s tracks have received hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. Some feature references to other groups in the capital, including long-running rivals Zone 2 from Peckham. Earlier this year Incognito and another member of Moscow17 were cleared at the Old Bailey of murdering teenager Abdirahman Mohamed, a brother of a member of Zone 2.
The most recent official crime figures have showed a spike in violent crime in London. The number of recorded offences involving knives or sharp instruments rose by 16% to 40,147 in England and Wales, according to figures for the year to March published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The number of homicides – covering murder and manslaughter – rose by 12% from the previous year to 701, excluding exceptional incidents with multiple victims such as the terrorist attacks in London and Manchester.
YouTube has already deleted more than half of videos targeted by the Metropolitan Police in dedicated operations, clearly indicating that they believe Drill and violence intermingle together.
Drill music is not a UK developed genre, rather it has been exported from the US. Drill is a strain of trap- rap, that originates from Chicago, notably popularised by Chief Keef and was delivered to UK audiences by YouTube. It is the geographical space of South London that has adopted the sound and packaged it with the harsh, dark and violent realities of London street life.
It is nothing new that young men from deprived areas of cities rhyme about their environment and the real struggles which they go through. NWA’s landmark album- Straight Outta Compton provided a deep and vivid dive into the lives of Black youth in Compton Los Angeles. Subsequently, other rappers felt comfortable across both coasts to rap about daily struggles in the ghettos and how their lives were very different to what is portrayed to the outside world.
In the UK, it was the grime scene that exploded during the early to mid-2000s. This form of rap allowed young men, from the high rises of London to rap at pace of the challenges growing up, earning a living and police harassment. Inequality of wealth and lack of opportunity was wrapped up in an aggressive form of Hip Hop that made rappers like Dizzie Rascal legends.
However, as the grime scene becomes part of the older chapter of UK Hip Hop, Drill has opened another one. Aggression seems an understatement, as drill is not simply entertainment. This form of Hip Hop seems to have abandoned safe spaces, rather almost every track is an open challenge to provoke a reaction on the street. Nothing is off limit and is the definition of no holds barred.
In a new report, Birmingham-based academics Craig Pinkney and Shona Robinson-Edwards state that drill music and its “music videos are a platform which can provide the gang and/or gang members with a sense of power and authority. Individuals can essentially say and do what they want.”
Digga D raps in ‘No Hook’, “Blood on my shank, man keep it, clean it, use hot water and bleach it”. This very dark bar is not just shocking, it is more chilling because this is not fiction. It highlights how teenagers are not rhyming for dance purposes, it is taking the genre down the same path that killed the likes of 2Pac, Biggie Smalls and many young men in South London.
In another example, rapper M-Trap, aka Junior Simpson, rapped about knife attacks, before he and three others, stabbed 15-year-old Jermaine Goupall to death. Giving Simpson a life sentence, Judge Anthony Leonard QC told Simpson: “You suggested [the lyrics] were just for show but I do not believe that, and I suspect you were waiting for the right opportunity for an attack.” Goupall’s father has since described drill music as having “a demonic mindset”.
Some drill music tracks still available online feature groups associated with the postcode war that led to the murder of 17-year-old Tanesha Melbourne, who was shot dead in Tottenham in April 2018.
Drill music is the voice of young people in London and indeed other cities in the UK. This includes many Muslim young people, who listen and rap about their negative experiences. Ignore or accept this simple fact, Muslim youth have also been affected deeply by lack of opportunity in the inner city. Absolutely, Drill music messages are highly disturbing, but this is where London is today. These young men hail from communities that have had cuts to local services, such as youth clubs and employment/training services that would take would-be gangsters and murderers off the streets.
The Tory government and increasingly the self-righteous media does not reflect on the devastating impact of public service cuts, failing a generation of young people where the result has been murder. These young lives could have contributed so much to society, but instead of finding opportunity, they found different ways to live which is becoming more dangerous every day.
Knife and gun culture is nothing new in London and anybody who says otherwise does not know the history of the city. Drill is not a cause of such violence, rather it the result of depriving inner cities of needed services they have desperately required. The moral hypocrisy is telling. Instead of dealing with social causes, the establishment has been convenient to shift the entire blame to rapping and music.
The content of Drill no doubt has had a role towards violence in the capital, however it needs to be clear, this has been built on other core dynamics that have accelerated tragedies in South London
Highly talented young men have constructed an art form that could be used to provide a different type of message. A message that could steer similar youth from their background into a space that can provide a livelihood and raise the aspirations in their community. However, experiences and raw daily life have not allowed that luxury.