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Live By the Gun, Die By the Gun

by Emma Mankowski 2 months ago in controversies
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Drill Rap and Gun Violence in NYC

Eric Adams testifies in a hearing on gun violence in Washington, D.C. Jason Andrew/AP

NYC mayor Eric Adams recently came under fire when he expressed concern about the role of drill rap in NYC gun violence.

Drill rap is a form of hip-hop that originated in Chicago in the 2010s. Today, NYC is one of the biggest hubs for the genre. Adams admitted he was not familiar with the music, but his son, who works at Jay-Z’s Roc Nation company, sent him some music videos. “It was alarming,” Adams said in response.

The mayor stated that he is not interested in banning the genre, but rather in creating a series of dialogues with the drill community. He recently met with top drill artists in NYC, and he said they had a “great conversation.”

Adams is particularly concerned about diss tracks that specifically threaten violence or discuss and glorify murders. He worries that the songs are being used as a platform to brag about murders or target hatred.

Many people worried that Adams wanted to ban drill rap entirely. After all, government leaders have been seeking to ban hip-hop for years due to its association with violence.

However, Adams is learning and recognizing the holistic aspect of drill rap. I believe he wants to maintain it as an art form and a medium of expression, while doing away with the violent gun-oriented aspects of it.

Yes, hip-hop can encourage violence. But it can also be used as a platform for good, as an important venue for social discussion, and as the voice of a culture.

“[Drill] is tha sound of New York,” Adams tweeted. “We just tryna show tha world how far we can take it.”

Bugzy Malone, Image via Publicist

Who is Bugzy Malone?

I want to travel over to the other side of the western world, to the United Kingdom. Gun violence still exists there, but on a much smaller level, and I want to talk about the work that UK hip-hop is doing to change gun and gang violence.

Eric Adams is right, banning music isn’t going to do anything. Besides being an impossible feat, it still doesn’t fix the root issues. Gun violence doesn’t appear out of thin air, and it certainly doesn’t spontaneously appear out of hip-hop.

Aaron Davis, better known by his stage name Bugzy Malone, is working to undo the deep-seated issues that perpetuate gun culture. He’s from Manchester, and he is one of the top UK grime artists in the country.

If you had seen Davis in his youth, you might have thought he was doomed to fail. He was born to a pair of career criminals, his father was absent, his stepfather abused his mother, and he was expelled in grade nine for being involved in criminal activities.

Davis began participating in drug trafficking and crime at the age of 11. He witnessed his uncle’s murder around that same time. When he was 16, Davis was arrested. After being released a year later, he made the decision to start rapping.

When his friends would usually peddle drugs or engage in violence, Davis instead encouraged them to play backing tracks for him to rap to. He used hip-hop as a substitution for violence, a way to keep people off the streets, and a cathartic tool.

Davis released his first mixtape in 2010. He is now 31 years old, has two studio albums, is married with a child. In nearly every song he writes, he encourages young people to escape the gang violence that plagues the UK, and especially his home city of Manchester.

Bugzy Malone, Image via Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage

What Does Bugzy Malone Cite as Reasons for Gun and Gang Violence?

I think Bugzy Malone’s 2018 song Die By the Gun is crucial to stopping gun culture. I didn’t grow up like Davis did. I, like Eric Adams, can look at drill rap and hip hop and see gun violence.

But Adams has come to recognize what Aaron Davis already knows: gun violence is perpetrated by many underlying factors. And to change the world, we have to change gun culture and replace it with a culture of hope.

In his song, Davis addresses explicit reasons why gun violence exists in his community. I’d like to go over them briefly, and you can take away what you can from them.

In summary, the song follows a plot of a man going to kill one of his former role models in order to improve his reputation, and the man accidentally kills his mother. In reaction, the man kills himself. I say man, but David seems to imply that he is quite young.

Anybody can be gangster/You’ve seen City of God, there’s no age restriction

Right away, Davis points fingers at the media. According to the APA, studies show that “children who watched many hours of violence on television when they were in elementary school tended to show higher levels of aggressive behavior when they became teenagers.”

When exposed to violent media, the studies say:

"Children may become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others.

Children may be more fearful of the world around them.

Children may be more likely to behave in aggressive or harmful ways toward others."

He addresses this again later in the song: He had Scarface playing on DVD in the background/So when he left his room he heard Al Pacino say, "You better say good night to the bad guy"

With poverty constantly hanging over your head/Would you not fight the affliction?

A 2016 study by Leeds Beckett University found that individual poverty and violence are not necessarily correlated in the UK. However, living in a low-income community may play a role:

“People living in poor neighborhoods are generally more likely to be the victims and/or perpetrators of crime…The most persistent and powerful finding in this research is that areas with high homicide rates are those with high levels of economic disadvantage, suggesting a causal relationship between poverty and homicide.”

The hood's an addiction/He went from no one to having a big reputation

He just licked man down and he cannot wait for the word to get 'round/This means he'll be the talk of the town and now they'll know he's never been a clown

These two lines, from different parts in the song, address how reputation plays a factor. The protagonist is seeking respect and fear as a way to feel control over his life.

Violated by his own family/He's got no problem with violation

Beaten up as a child/So he likes to hurt people, he don't need a reason

While the major. According to a 1989 study, the majority of abused children do not become delinquent, criminal, or violent. However, childhood abuse does increase the risk of delinquency, adult criminal behavior, and violent criminal behavior. That said, these statistics are very difficult to measure, and they may be subject to confounds.

He's heard stories about hits/And he's got what it takes to make a man go missing

This is where the glorification of violence comes in. If it’s discussed in an unhealthy way, whether that’s with friends or through drill rap, that could potentially perpetuate more violence. Again, I don’t have studies to back this up, but it’s what Eric Adams is concerned about.

Also, he doesn’t address this, but as an American I would add the issue of children and young people having easy access to weapons.

NYC drill rappers meet with Mayor Eric Adams, Image Via Brooklyn Vegan

Conclusion

Drill rap/hip hop isn’t the cause of violence. It’s an expression, a reflection, of things that are happening in these communities. We need to get in touch with these communities and see what’s really going on. What deep-seated issues are causing gun violence? Maybe they’re not that deep-seated.

It could be as simple as providing social programs that enable families to provide stable homes for their children. Or raising the minimum wage so children can have adequate care.

I’d like to end with what I think is Aaron Davis, or Bugzy Malone’s, most important point. In his song, he sees the value of each individual person. He sees a life lost to gun violence, even if the violence was “their fault” as a tragic loss, and we should too.

We need to stop seeing this as “their problem” or “their fault.” It’s not the person’s fault that they grew up in a culture of violence. In fact, if we are in a place of privilege, it is our responsibility to spark social change and save these lives.

It's a shame that the hood's an addiction

Them man fell from the heavens but nobody missed him

All that knowledge and wisdom

But he didn't share it so there's no one to protect him

Yeah there's power in numbers

But don't underestimate age out here

There's too much power in youngers

And them man forgot there was hundreds

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Emma Mankowski

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