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54 - MUSIC issue 177 Let it be said once and for all: drill is inherently a violent genre. Born from the slums of South Chicago, where more Americans have been murdered than in Afghanistan and Iraq combined, drill bubbled under mainstream culture until early 2012, when industry titans Drake and Kanye West took a fancy to it. The increased attention spread the sound and accompanying culture to London where it has grown to become almost as popular as its American counterpart, thanks partly to its similarity to grime, which has been embraced by UK culture since the early nineties. Both strains of drill are rooted in gang culture, and the music within is united not by it’s production style, but the culture, lyrics and mentality. There’s no doubt that the songs are cruel, blood soaked and treacherous, but so were the streets that inspired them. Rising stars of the genre have been plagued not only by their crimes, such as Unknown T and the group Harlem Spartans (the majority of them are living their new found fame in a jail cell) but by new legislation. Last year, rappers Skengdo and AM were handed a nine month suspension sentence simply for performing one of their songs, thanks to the introduction of the CBO ban. This legislation reinforced the notorious 696 assessment form that had allowed police to shut down drill shows on a whim, and which was later abandoned thanks to issues of racial profiling. With Scotland Yard removing almost forty drill music videos from YouTube, we have moved beyond protection and into an era of undiluted paternalism, where the police have the legal power to decide which music is moral enough to be listened to. This blanket censorship ignores the people and the human element in this marginalised generation, such as Mr Strange, who recently came out as drill’s first openly gay rapper, and tracks by the artist Lowkey, who’s consistently released tracks lamenting the loss of his friends and family. History is certainly cyclical. Every generation has seen at least one genre of music be crucified publicly. In the early 20’s it was jazz, in the 50’s it was rock, in the late 80’s it was hip-hop and in the early 90’s it was metal, punk, Frank Zappa and anything else that Tipper Gore disliked. The common threads that linked these genres was that they were dominated or created by black musicians, and the bulk of them were unapologetically critical of the status-quo. Social conservatives have used emerging genres as a proxy for their prejudice for over a century. Ironically, a University of Missouri study conducted last year found that pop music was the most violent and degrading genre of music of the past decade, but with it’s easy going sound and vapid messaging, it gets a free pass in the court of public opinion. At the risk of sounding pretentious, Thomas Jefferson once said that every generation needs a revolution, but he forgot to mention that they also need a soundtrack to go alongside it. For this generation, it will certainly be drill. This entire conversation ignores the practical limitations of banning anything, let alone music, which can be accessed readily by the 1.5 billion people on YouTube alone. Top down bans of everything from the American Alcohol Prohibition, to modern day Marijuana criminalization and plastic bags have failed thanks to constantly being undermined. Every new instance of drill censorship is another headline for Britain’s left wing newspapers, that will then introduce the music, lyrics and culture to hundreds of new unsuspecting potential drill fans. Furthermore, artists such as INK, Freek, OneFour, 2M, Blacky and 970Block have launched the genre globally, with emerging scenes in Ireland, UAE, Australia, Sweden and Spain respectively. There’s little chance of it dying out in the two established scenes, with rappers like Polo G, and Sheff G continuing the American legacy, and DigDat and Headie One carrying the torch for the UK. Violence is the beating heart of drill, and attempting to remove it would be a killing blow for the fledgling genre. Where both the media and politicians deliberately miss the mark is about what this violence represents: drill is the symptom of societies that are riddled with systemic inequalities and terminally infected with austerity that rewards and expands class divisions. Drillers are brutally and candidly presenting to us the cracks in the bedrock of our society, cracks which cannot be plastered over simply by silencing and deplatforming them. We don’t need moral panic. We need change for the most vulnerable in our country.
words by: ALEX PAYNE design by: ESTHER LOI
THE DEMONISATION OF DRILL