There is little agreement about what is behind the wave of stabbings that has swept through Britain this year. But one theme continues to crop up in the national discussion around knife crime: drill music.
A sub-genre of rap music, primarily listened to by young people, the lyrics of drill music describe a world of gang warfare and violence.
Speaking to HuffPost UK, the artist and activist Drillminister, who says his main motivation is to defend the genre and “get people thinking about the harsh realities that young people face”, summed up what the new genre means to him.
“Drill music is the street’s anthems,” he said. “It is the news reported from the streets – directly to you, wherever you are, to your laptops and mobile phones.”
Drill entered the public consciousness earlier this year when Met Police chief Cressida Dick singled it out as one of the reasons for the increase in knife attacks in London, and said that internet companies have a duty to remove content that “glamourises violence”.
“We didn’t make society the way it is – we’re just a reflection of it. We live in a cesspool”
The Met asked YouTube to delete a number of music videos, and in May the platform confirmed that it had taken down some of the clips that the commissioner had requested be removed.
Another senior Met officer, Detective Superintendent Mike West, has said that the number of videos that “incite violence” have been increasing since late 2015, around the time that drill was coming into its own.
“The gangs try to out-rival each other with the filming and content – what looks like a music video can actually contain explicit language with gangs threatening each other,” he said.
“There are gestures of violence, with hand signals suggesting they are firing weapons and graphic descriptions of what they would do to each other.”
Last week, East London knife attack victim K – a self-described fan of drill – told HuffPost UK that he believes drill is to blame for the increase in violent crime.
Drillminister insists that this isn’t the case. “People that are blaming drill for violent crime in the UK don’t understand it. They’re just pointing the finger. It takes a smart person to delve in and see the truth behind everything that’s going on.
“We didn’t make society the way it is – we’re just a reflection of it. We live in a cesspool – so that’s the music you’re gonna get until the situation has changed. [Until then] the scenario’s going to be the same.”
For many drill artists, the music might create opportunities for legitimate revenue and a comfortable lifestyle that isn’t always available to working-class black men, Drillminister says.
“This is a way of getting out of the hood, making sure we can buy a property and keep our mums on the block and staying where our whole families are and having a community. Areas are becoming gentrified and people are being thrown out of their communities. This is how young men can be legit and get out of the same cycles of going jail and coming back out.”
He says it is easy to marginalise forms of culture that are “attached to the underclasses”.
“If we were playing banjos, they would be saying ‘they’re playing banjos and people are dying – yeah, we need to take the banjos out of the schools’. It doesn’t make any difference what imagery is portrayed. We will get pigeonholed, either way; we’re stained, innit. That’s how it is.”
“Universal Credit is messing up the hood”
Some of influences behind the genre are, Drillminister claims, economic. “We’re going through mad austerity; people’s mums are going through madness,” he says.
“Universal Credit is messing up the hood. The music will change when the situation changes. It’s gonna get ’soft’ when society is soft to us.”
Others share Drillminister’s concern that the music is being scapegoated for a wider social problem. Over the years, other music genres of black or urban origin have suffered similar treatment. In the early 2000s, there was a moral panic around grime, prior to it gaining mainstream popularity. In the 1990s, it was dancehall. In the 1980s, gangster rap was widely accused of promoting violence.
Drillminister believes that some young people fall into a life of crime after being let down by the education system. “I can’t speak for every black person in the UK. Children are going to exclusion centres at 14 or 15 after getting kicked out of school,” he says. “Children are not getting entered for GCSEs. Children are dropping out of school and making money their own way and surviving in their own way.”
He says children listen to drill artists like him because they “report the truths – what’s not in school”.
“Not just the violence; we’re telling them other things – knowledge to help them make money and be able to make sure their mum has bread and butter in the house,” he says.
“That motivation doesn’t come from school – they’re teaching you what the square root of pi is...but not how to sort your finances – that’s the reality of life.
“Any black person that’s had to make it through this education system knows they had to work ten times harder than the man next to them. So that already shows you that the school are attacking black students – that’s what it’s there for, so drill is our way of making a new future for ourselves.”