Drill music is a style of trap that came out of Chicago’s South Side in the 2010s. Characterized by overtly dark, nihilistic lyrics that describe violence, in recent years the style has caught on in Brixton, South London’s rap scene. An example from the British scene would be 1011’s line in No Hook, “Blood on my shank, man keep it, clean it, use hot water and bleach it”. Especially in April of 2018, the genre has caught on to a wider public audience thanks to its consumption and spread through social media. At the same time, crime rates in London have been rising, with cause for alarm. The statistics released by the Metropolitan Police reflect that the murder rate has risen 51.5% since 2017.
In a frenzy to interpret this disturbing data, law enforcement authorities and mainstream media have both singled out the recent musical phenomenon as designated scapegoat.
However, the question remains as to whether the introduction of lyrical violence has translated to an uptick in gang violence. Mr. David Lammy, a longstanding member of Parliament of the past 18 years, blames the rising murder rate on the burgeoning drugs market. The Tottenham MP has criticized the level of violence in London, calling it “the worst [he’s] ever seen it”, while comparing the easy convenience of the £11bn cocaine drugs market to a Deliveroo service.
Cressida Dick, the commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, took a wider viewpoint. She identified two prominent underlying problems. One is incitement of young people to violence using social media, and the other is the link between violent crimes and the drugs market, in particular cocaine and crack purchased by the middle class for recreational usage. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has also corroborated the police chief’s latter statement, blaming “middle class parties” for the rise of drug-fueled gang violence on the streets.
However, Commissioner Dick has addressed the former problem through her criticism of the drill music scene. The Metropolitan Police have connected drill music to violence, even going so far as to create a database of 1400 drill music videos as an intelligence tool. Due to the fact that drill music is made by gangs and in some circumstances, used to taunt other gangs, there could be a possible link to physical conflict. Hence in an LBC radio interview in May, Dick called on YouTube to take down drill music videos in efforts to reduce gang crime. So far, only 30 videos have been taken down out of 50-60 videos that Scotland Yard had previously requested.
A chicken-or-the-egg situation, whether drill is a product or reinforcer of the violence can be debated with no end. However, it is important to take into account that music has caused controversy for decades, whether it was 70s punk rock, 80s hip hop, or 2000s grime. Ultimately, they have all been absorbed into mainstream culture. On the other hand, youth violence amongst working people of color has existed without cease. Without addressing the root causes of youth violence such as poverty, broken homes, and the education system, it is unfair to launch a full blown media attack against the self-expression of the downtrodden.
Salience has yet again been placed on the easier route of victim blaming. In this case, it means framing the musical expression of the underprivileged as the cause of rising murder rates when in fact, it could very well be that on top of existing structural oppression, the middle class’ seemingly innocuous cocaine usage is creating more violence amongst those who are forced to do their dirty work of drug sourcing. There is no simplistic answer for this dilemma. Additionally, seeing as the media is controlled by those of privilege, it is reasonable to question further the cause of the cost of young lives. Ultimately, in order to shift this victim blaming culture, the middle class must take ownership of our actions. We must recognize that the manner in which our privilege is wielded, leads to a trickle down effect that ultimately impacts the rest of society.