Art Imitating Life: Drill And Violence

Drill music has come under fire for its explicitly violent references in the midst of London’s rising murder rate. But what is the real relationship between drill and violence?

Last week, London’s Met Police issued the removal of several drill music videos on YouTube for their suggestive content. The crackdown on drill is a new operation enforced by the Met Police to combat the alarming increase in the rate of murders and violence in the capital. The London Assembly called an emergency meeting in early April to discuss the murder rate soaring to above 50 in little over 3 months.

The epidemic has become a hot topic for established media outlets, which back in April compared the murder rate to New York’s. Headlines like ‘London murder rate overtakes New York for first time ever after spate of fatal stabbings and shootings’ and ‘London murder rate overtakes New York’s’.

But the role of music in this situation and the role of drill in particular is not altogether clear. More specifically, a direct link between drill music being on YouTube and an increase in London’s murder rate is difficult to prove and certainly questionable.

Drill MC Melvillous via YouTube

Why have Met Police targeted drill?

Drill is a genre originating from Chicago – known for its trap-influenced instrumentals, energetic delivery and obscene lyrical content – soon found its place in London. Popular UK drill artists such as ‘Skengado’, ‘K-Trap’, and Brixton Hill based collective ‘67’, all respectively add their own flare to the genre, integrating the lazy-paced flows and instrumentals that favour grime create unique sounds.

The adoption and subsequent adaptation of Chicago drill in London scenes goes beyond social media influence. The rhythmic and gritty qualities of the genre resonate strongly with the reality of life in the capital.

Despite its graphic content, not all fans of drill will mindlessly partake in the crimes it touches on, most can discern between reality and appreciating art. The alluring quality of drill isn’t necessarily the glorification of violence, but the rhythmic energy that ‘gasses’ or ‘excites’ individuals. Music, in itself, is neither inherently bad nor good.   

Anxieties surrounding negative musical influence are not new to Britain. Some decades ago, Jamaican sound system culture was vilified for the same reasons drill is today, inciting violence and antisocial behaviour.  

But the perpetuating angst surrounding music and high levels of crime has little to do with the music itself, instead its more indicative of the impoverished environments and social ostracisation that births these genres in the first place.

Historically, musical cosmopolitanism established black unity. Music historian Lloyd Bradley argues that the popularity of the Trinidadian folk genre, calypso, for example – known for its political undertones – influenced Britain, America and West African highlife in the mid 20th century. Music has been shown to promote social cohesion, and has been a way for the black diaspora to recognise, reinvent, and establish itself.  

The global resonance of drill is not a malevolent force, but rather as Yemi Abiade beautifully articulates it, a “crying out for help, speaking to a mental anguish that has engulfed them but fails to be addressed.”

Drill artist Loski via YouTube

A Cry For Help

Although there has been a 25% increase in weapon related violence, firearm related offences are still 32% below a decade ago.  

Knife crimes appear to be more of a worry however as possession of an article with a blade or point rose by 33% compared to the previous year. However, this statistic will always increase with the increased volume of routine stop and search procedures.

Black Londoners are still four times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than any other ethnicity and are over three times more likely to experience force against police than their white counterparts.

The drill music crackdown is just one of several strategies employed by the Met Police and London Assembly to tackle weapon related offences. Sadiq Khan has repeatedly discussed the need for more routine stop and search procedures, stating, “there already has been an increase in stop and search, targeted and intelligence led”

The rise of stop and search procedures appears counterintuitive however, considering the efforts of black Warwick student and aspiring politician, Alexander Paul, who gave a moving speech at the 2014 Conservative Conference which to helped reduce the number of black males stopped and searched by two thirds.

Drill artist Loski via YouTube

The London Assembly and Met Police are clearly struggling to find effective long-term solutions to weapon related offences. Will deleting videos of drill music help to change this?

Scotland could act as a model for any policies that do come into effect, as no young people were stabbed to death there in 2017. Their approach focused on understanding the root causes of the problem, which reflected levels of poverty in urban life.

For long-term positive change, there should be an adjustment, starting with empathy towards those who are more likely to engage in violent and antisocial crimes. Developing an understanding is crucial as those that are likely to engage in crime are in situations where music, if anything, can be a positive motivation in their life.

Drill music may represent an obscene reality, but an entire community of people simply want to have their voices heard and don’t want their creative expression and identities compromised. If poverty and institutional racism are to be solved at the crux, only then will culture and creativity naturally reflect that development too.


Start the discussion

to comment