Does drill music reflect or drive crime?
According to a new report by the BBC, drill music is increasingly finding its way into courtrooms around the UK. The report looked at 67 trials that occurred across the UK from 2005 onwards, where road rap and UK drill were used in evidence. The vast majority of the defendants in those cases were young black men and boys.
Article by Rosanne Coetsier
Drill is a style of trap music that originated in the South Side of Chicago in early 2010. It is defined by its dark, violent, nihilistic lyrical content and ominous trap-influenced beats. The style filtered over to the UK and was picked up by a young generation of MCs keen to define themselves away from the grime of an older generation. Since then it has influenced the creation of other regional scenes, such as Australian, French, Irish, Dutch, and New York drill.
As ‘drill’ emerged in cities whose working-class black population has arguably been left to fend for itself and descended into violence, the question arose if the music reflected or shaped the environment. Like violent films or video games, can people distinguish fact from fantasy, or do they let it affect their behavior?
“Beef has always been part of rap music. Whether it’s a Tupac song or a Giggs song, challenging the competition comes with the territory. I think anyone listening to my music understands this.” - MC Abra Cadabra
Many drill musicians deny glorifying violence in their music; arguing their art imitates their life and not the other way around. Nonetheless, because of the way that UK drill is networked via social media, it leads some listeners to believe that they are the subjects of the provocative lyrics and creates legitimate worries that drill is not just reflecting criminality, but driving it. Moreover, as music videos are a platform that can provide the gang and/or gang members with a sense of power and authority, individuals can essentially say and do what they want. It has been seen that when a rapper makes a threat on a track or in a video, it puts them in a position where their credibility and livelihood are at stake and could drive them to prove themselves and catalyze actual harm.
"We don't think its right to blame or alienate one music genre as a scapegoat." - 67
In many ways, the panic over grime and drill is only an example of how music is singled out among the complex social factors that add up to crime in UK cities. “Targeting musicians is a distraction,” argues Abra. “There are people doing mad things, not because they want to, but because the societal situation has forced them to.”
It’s also often social media postings that form violent disputes rather than the music itself. In 2018, rappers Skengdo and AM received a 9-month prison sentence as they “allegedly incited and encouraged violence against rival gang members and then posted it on social media”. These allegedly got suspended for 2 years. The conflict between producers, rappers, and promoters of UK drill and legal authorities continues as in that same year, numerous videos that were removed from YouTube had resurfaced on Pornhub.
In 2018, a crew member of 67, Dimzy, shared in an open letter that they "don't think its right to blame or alienate one music genre as a scapegoat." Dimzy goes on to scrutinize the way the media portray their genre as being the driving force behind "the sporadic rise in the number of violent crimes in London" and wonders why other forms of entertainment that glorify violence and crime are not being blamed as well.
Be that as it may, as many academics proclaim, using drill as evidence in the courtroom is problematic in many ways. Firstly, it’s using an art form as if it were a documentary and therefore factual and objective evidence. Moreover, it gives prosecutors a free pass to use lyrics and videos to tell a story of a dangerous rapper that reflects long-standing stereotypes about black males as criminals and seriously offend black youth culture.
Dr. Eithne Quinn added that the shock and ‘macho posturing’ of drill is part of the theatre of it. "It's out to shock. The music's meant to alienate parents," adding that, "it has no place in the courtroom."
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