Drill: The Truth Behind the Mask

by Sara Al Mahdy 7 days ago in rap

the story behind London's scapegoat

Drill: The Truth Behind the Mask

After the Columbine tragedy, the media latched onto rock musician Marilyn Manson as the scapegoat for the whole shooting. This is exactly what we are seeing in the demonisation of the entire genre of London Drill rap, after the London metropolitan police commissioner had various music videos, some by the Drill crew 67, taken off YouTube for “inciting violence." The music, saturated with references to giant knives and gang related crime, is the soundtrack to music videos featuring young men brandishing large guns and standing in menacing mobs on their 'ends.' While the media and the Met police have the country believing Drillers are to blame for the rise in violent gang related crime in London, many believe that in reality, this is a classic example of using musicians as scapegoats for larger issues. What the Met police and all the right wing journalists are missing is what the music really means, and why young people in London are making it and turning to it as an escape from their realities. Drill music doesn’t aim to encourage young people to commit acts of violence, but rather is the outlet for young people to express the things they have experienced on the streets creatively. The music doesn’t aim to romanticise gang violence, but rather to show the negative effects that it has on young people in the community. Member of the group 67, Dimzy, has said that before the birth of his daughter, making music was the only thing keeping him alive.

So how can something that has been so beneficial for young people be painted as exactly the opposite?

The answer is simple: Authority figures who have never lived in the communities they claim to understand so well are latching onto the first thing they can find to let the papers have a run with. They ignore the fact that the government has used these communities in London as places to save money. The spending cuts have seen closures of youth centres, educational cuts have seen a decrease in after school clubs, and general poverty has left many families struggling to put food on the table.

It’s easy to shift blame to a few music videos rather than talk about the real causes behind the rise in violent crime. If you talk to people in those communities, they will tell you that for many young boys, joining gangs is the only way to survive on the streets and to provide for their families. Ex-gang leader Karl Lokko, who is now a rapper from Brixton, turned to gang violence as a way to survive in a community that left him powerless and in a constant state of fear. After being counselled for many years, he is now an activist for other boys like him, communicating his message and his story through the power of rap. With the existence of people like Lokko, it’s impossible to fully demonise a whole genre without understanding what the message is that genre is really trying to get across.

Like in the Columbine attacks, when Marylin Manson was used as a scapegoat, the media grabbed hold of his unique sense of style and often dark lyrics and took them for face value, rather than for what they actually mean for fans, which is a voice for those who feel lost and unaccepted by society. What we see now with the demonisation of Drill is the same thing. We have young boys using a creative outlet to express their daily realities and share them with others like them, who possibly also feel hopeless. Who are the metropolitan police to take this outlet away from young boys, when it is often the only way they can get off the streets in the first place? Top UK rappers started on the streets, such as Stormzy and Skepta, and are now worldwide stars who have gained enough success to pull their own families out of the crime ridden and impoverished London areas they were raised in. Drill is more than some scary guys rapping about crime and guns. It is an escape, and a form of therapy for young boys, victims of a society that doesn’t serve people like them.

Maybe their lyrics are upsetting. Maybe the graphic nature of their subject matter is unpalatable to some. And maybe, the videos make middle class white parents quake for fear of letting their children be subject to such preposterous antics. But is it really okay to censor the experiences of these young people to make sure others feel comfortable? Because there are lots of young people in this country who are much more than uncomfortable. Who are starving as they sit in class because their mums can’t afford to put breakfast on the table. Who can’t walk to the corner shop with a five pound note in their pocket without getting patted down on the way and having it taken by one of the older boys.

Violence on the streets of London runs much deeper than a few Drill videos on YouTube. If young boys weren’t subject to violent crime on a daily basis, their lyrics wouldn’t be as violent as they are. If the crime rates were reduced, we wouldn’t have drill music in the first place, as the genre was born out of widespread fear in impoverished areas of London. If the metropolitan police want Drill rap to go extinct, more must be done to support young teenagers who are living under such circumstances.

In essence, Drill rap doesn’t breed crime. Crime breeds drill rap.

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Sara Al Mahdy

I'm Sara, a girl with a passion for music, art, politics and science. I write a weekly column where I review and promote artists that I think are doing something great. 

See all posts by Sara Al Mahdy