FEATURE: British Beef: Is Drill, Rap and Grime Music Responsible for a Rise in Knife-Related Crimes in Britain - and Is It as Simple as Blaming Certain Genres?



British Beef

IN THIS PHOTO: 67 are one of the rawest and most exciting crews in British Drill/Rap/PHOTO CREDIT: Blaow

Is Drill, Rap and Grime Music Responsible for a Rise in Knife-Related Crimes in Britain - and Is It as Simple as Blaming Certain Genres?


WE are meant to live in a more developed...

 PHOTO CREDIT: @takeshi2/Unsplash

and conscientious world than decades ago and one would think, as we become more aware of different people and forms of music, we develop a sense of understanding. It seems appalling how many times I need to write about racism and judgement in music. I did so recently when speaking about the way Rap and Hip-Hop are still overlooked at award ceremonies – here and in the U.S. – and, without taking too much time to forget about that and hope things move on, it seems some of our best black artists are facing a rough time. We all know the knife-crime statistics in this country are shocking. I heard on the news that, interestingly, the past week has been a bit quiet – shocking when that means no-one has been killed; others have been injured or threatened – but the number killed on our streets in 2019 is insane. Most of the deaths have occurred in London and it makes me wonder what has caused this rise. I think there is a sense of disconnect among many youths and, whilst knife-crime is not a black problem, we often associate the problem with black youths. There are statistics to show regional variations and types of crimes involving knives but I think there is a lot of anger in the country and sense of tension. In London, I do feel like there is this sense that the country is falling apart; people are not being listened to and, when it comes to the young men in estates, they are being ignored.

I cannot pardon any knife deaths but the gang-motivated deaths seem to stem from a number of things. There is a lack of education and awareness being brought to estates and problem areas. I feel many are frustrated in school and not being reached out to; there might be struggles at home and it is felt the only way to belong and feel heard is through crimes such as this. Maybe the harsh alternative of crime and murder is the result of years of gentrification, alienation and ignorance that has affected many in the communities. Recently, Ciaran Thapar wrote in GQ about the experiences he has faced and the fact that we cannot link knife-crime to Drill music:

In his spring statement, chancellor Philip Hammond promised an extra £100 million to police for combating violence. The number of police on our streets has become the topical nucleus around which all other comment and argument has been orbiting (close competitors of the recent past are drill music and middle-class cocaine users). But this obsession with law enforcement and punitivism feels like yet another move away from trying to solve root issues. And even this focus is being reductively reported.

“Police officer numbers must be a factor, but not the factor. If you look back to the latter years of the noughties, knife crime was high and police numbers were high. Both fell, but now police numbers are low and violence is high again,” says Gavin Hales, an independent researcher and the former deputy director of the Police Foundation think tank. “So in some sense there is no direct correlation between officer numbers and violence”.

I have seen this worrying thing happening: Drill and Grime music being linked with knife-related deaths. Many assume that, because most artists in the genres are black, then they must be responsible for fanning the flames of hate. The music in the genres, too, is aggressive and there must be a correlation. One can also see a link between the way Hip-Hop and Rap are ignored: the feeling they perpetuate messages glamourising knife-crime and incite people to commit murder. I have been listening to Grime for the last fifteen years and Drill music for the last few. From early innovators like Wiley and Dizzee Rascal (Grime) to modern Drill artists like Ioski and SL; these guys are not promoting attacks and crime. Most artists at the forefront of British Grime and Drill are men – this is a problem in itself – but there is nothing to suggest that there is a link between these genres and the rise in deaths on the streets. Venues are suffering and police/the Government are putting pressure on them to respond to the rise in violence. Listen to genres such as Drill and Grime and there are very few messages regarding revenge attacks and violence. In fact, you can listen to any genre of music and there is always going to be an element of physicality and aggression – that is not to say those who listen to Pop and Folk will take that as motivation to attack someone!


 IN THIS PHOTO: Rap artist Dave has created one of the year’s most important records with PSYCHODRAMA/PHOTO CREDIT: Elliot Kennedy for CRACK

Black music in Britain is more successful than ever and, with great Grime and Drill artists alongside brilliant Rap acts like Little Simz, there is this incredible new wave of talent. A lot of these artists have to hustle for attention and gigs; they have to be self-made and are not afforded the same opportunities as artists in other genres. Consider the decline in venues especially for Grime and Drill and it is clear that there is this sense of prejudice. A lot of gentrification and changes mean so many artists are pushed to the outskirts and struggle to integrate into the mainstream. Why has Drill music risen in popularity and why is it receiving heat in the press? Again, writing for The Independent this time, Ciaran Thapar tells the story:

Instead, drill music in particular comes after years of Conservative austerity. A sense of demonisation felt amongst the working class, predominantly black British young men who leverage the unapologetic genre as a medium of expression has persisted. Compared to grime, drill is the sound of an additional two decades of suppressed anger, normalised territorial violence, claustrophobic housing and exclusionary schooling. And its rapid growth has been enabled via the shareability and democratic hypervisibility of social media”.

A lot of artists, such as Dave (who released the sensational PSYCHODRAMA recently), are talking about black identity and perceptions; the state of the streets and, rather than add to the problem of violence, are actually against it and sending out positive messages.

The thing is, the young men we see in the news who are killing and adding to the shocking knife-crime statistics are not being fed and groomed by Drill, Rap and Grime. The artists are not urging their fans to act in an appalling way and, in fact, the messages coming out condemn violence and ask for rationale, sanity and greater harmony. I know there are a few bad apples who, invariably, will be glamourising a violent culture but they are in the minority. Thapar, writing yesterday, talked about the findings regarding British ‘urban’ music and how there is a prejudice:

This week, a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee report has warned of the prejudicial treatment against black British music. It found that “institutionalised” racism still plagues the “urban” music sector, as “unfounded” concern from police and local councils continues to place pressure on venues to increase security (and therefore costs), or cancel shows altogether, if artists are affiliated with grime and rap. “Prejudices against grime artists risks stifling one of the UK’s most exciting musical exports,” says the new report”.

The decades-old habit of politicians and the police lazily linking genres like Hip-Hop and Rap to a rise in gang violence and street killings is continuing and there is no evidence whatsoever. I have watched the news over the past few days and there have been reports where black Drill artists have been interviewed and talked about the realities of their gigs.

People are there to be part of this community; to witness something thrilling that speaks to them and who they are. They are not right-wing followers who then spill into the street and act out their frustrations. Instead, the rise in knife-related deaths is because of changes in the country and the fact that, more and more, black youngsters are suffering the most. Thapar talked about his experiences at gigs:

And what evidence are they going on? I’ve been to countless concerts by grime and rap artists over the last decade and have seen infinitely less violence and provocation take place than while on nights out in comparatively whiter, more middle-class socialising spots across central and greater London. In 2019, with even fewer staff and resources after years of cuts, combined with an existing legacy of racialised methods such as stop-and-search or the “gang matrix”, police forces are unlikely to use a proportional and measured approach while dealing with venues showcasing music being made by the very same black people they intimidate, criminalise and imprison every single day”.

There are tough sentences for knife-related crimes but no sense of education and rehabilitation. Stop and searches have decreased but, more often than not, black men are being targeted without proof – fuelling a sense of anger and racism. Most knife-related attacks are carried out by men over the age of eighteen and the reason behind the shocking rise is complicated, as I said.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @neonbrand/Unsplash

This article speculates that rising school standards might be responsible: those in certain areas feel frustrated because they are slipping behind and do not have support in their communities. They might feel isolated at school and this anger filters into violence. I feel continued Brexit drama and the fact, the longer the Tories are in power, the less attention and understand there is regarding the young black population in the U.K. There is a link between a certain social standing and poverty of expectation in schools. Rather than blaming genres like Grime and Drill; rather than laying down prison sentences and not actually educating and raising awareness of the problem and alternatives, we are not going to see an end to this cycle. I feel music is actually a good way of bringing together the gangs and boys that are involved in knife-crime. Venues that host Drill and Rap, for instance, are not known for drug and violence issues and, conversely, they are this free and safe space where people can go and connect through their love of the music. Certainly, there have not been reports of flaring trouble and attacks outside Drill gigs so I cannot fathom why authorities are tightening curfews and coming down harsh. Music has the power to bring everyone together and, whether educational and leisurely, so many young men can turn their ways and learn a new way of life through this music.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @josephbalzanodev/Unsplash

One reaction to the rise in knife attacks is to bring music to neighbourhood and schools and give these young men – who feel estranged and ignored – a way of expressing themselves. A lot of these crimes are linked to men who are over school age and struggling to find work and acceptance. The messages and lessons need to happen at school level and those in power need to realise that music from Drill and Grime artists have an important role to play. They understand their audience much more than anyone in any government and they know full well that the problems we are seeing is nothing to do with music. The phenomenon linking Drill and violence is nothing new. Here, in this article from last year, it was suggested that a certain “emotional charge” in the music might urge others to carry out attacks or it might normalise the issue. In another article, the opposite was suggested: things are more complex and one cannot hold to account artists. NOISEY suggested the Government need a scapegoat and they came up with a very clear conclusion:

More than anything the marginalised in society need to stop being ignored; they deserve the opportunity to be seen as more than the group of people at the end of the tracks, away from the city, out of sight and out of mind until it’s too late, as is the case here. Ostensibly, the rise in youth killing isn’t a UK music issue, it’s a UK government issue. Saying otherwise is mad”.

Yeah, I know there have been songs that document knife attacks and domestic violence. Not all Drill, Grime and Rap artists are producing clean and inspiring music that sends out a positive message. There is a big difference between artists discussing it in their songs and compelling others to follow them like clones and brainwashes acolytes. One cannot blame lyrics for moulding these young minds in a negative way. Everyone is responsible for their own actions and there is a lot more positives to be taken from Drill music, for instance, than negatives. If there are cases where violence-promoting Drill songs did result in a gang or person committing a crime then it is not a problem with the genre rather than particular artists. Drill and Rap are hugely popular and one feels that, given the state of the country and how many black men are being ignored, perhaps there is a chance to use the platform for genuine good. I still maintain Drill and Grime cannot directly be linked to crimes but it is clear these artists hold sway and influence. Many have spoken out and say that, when it comes to gigs, they are peaceful and trouble-free. I do think our bodies in power need to look at things beyond Drill when it comes to knife-crime. Say if, like, ten-percent of knife problems were related to the music then it would still be a minority. I think, in most incidents, these young men are frustrated they cannot get work or are struggling at school; they are being judged and feel that they are being signalled out. Many feel they do not have a voice and are being overlooked by the better-offs. In any case, the issue is very complex and I do feel greater action needs to be taken. Blaming Drill, Grim and other genres for a rise in deaths and violent attacks is irresponsible and unfounded and, given the fact many artists in the genres are suffering as a result (of venues being stricter), it is definitely...


THE wrong way to go about things.