Drill music ‘adapting and evolving’

In January, two 21-year-olds pleaded guilty to breaching a gang injunction order after a video of them performing a song, which police say incites violence, was posted to social media.

This might be the kind of story you’re used to hearing about drill music if you’re not a fan of it.

Drill has been linked to gangs, violence and murder over the past few years.

But Skengdo and AM, the rappers mentioned above who received suspended prison sentences in January, say it’s an art form like any other – and they’re just reflecting life as they see it around them.

“We don’t always talk about violence, we talk about solutions, we talk about economic problems, we talk about the repercussions of violence. We cover a whole load of different ways to understand what’s going on,” AM tells BBC 1Xtra’s Twin B.

“When they want to talk about drill it’s always negativity. I don’t want to be seen in that light 24/7,” Skengdo says.

The Metropolitan Police says it’s been monitoring videos that incite violence since 2015, and has had 90 drill music videos removed from YouTube as of November last year.

“Music role models and social media have a hugely powerful and positive impact, but when used in the wrong way the consequences can quite literally be deadly,” Detective Superintendent Mike West tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

Early on the music was almost always about sending shots at rival gangs – it was about the “local politics of young people”, youth worker and writer Ciaran Thapar says.

Gang-related threats in music videos are still common.

Attempted 1.0, the AM song police decided breached a gang injunction, referenced real-life violence that was taking place between different gangs.

When Skengdo and AM were sentenced, police said violence in drill music “can, and did in this case, amount to gang-related violence”.

While Ciaran believes that threats are still happening in drill, he says the genre has “adapted and evolved” in response to pushback from police over the past few years.

“And that’s a good thing – it’s meant that it’s had to think more carefully as a genre and the people making it have had to think more carefully about all the different pressures going on and what you can and can’t say and what’s sensitive and not sensitive,” he says.

Image copyright
Finesse Foreva

Image caption

It’s not uncommon to see drill artists wearing masks

It also seems like there’s a lot more drill artists painting pictures in their music about a street life they don’t really live.

“Social media and just general youth culture is going in a direction of, you can create these alternative versions of yourself online.

“A lot of the time they are not talking authentically about what they’re doing, they’ve just created a character out of themselves.

“The trend of music in general, and hip-hop, has been in that direction, and drill is just reflecting that.”

AM adds that if everyone was being truthful in their music, “then everyone would be in jail”.

The Brixton rapper says that the phase of drill artists sending threats to their enemies in music videos is mostly “long gone”.

“Nowadays it’s just people coming up and talking about what’s been happening and what’s done happened and trying to move forward from that.”

Among the genre’s biggest artists and groups, that stands true.

Drill started in Chicago in the early 2010s but in recent years UK artists have made it their own, rapping the same dark content but at a quicker tempo.

Russ’s Gun Lean became the first drill track to get into the Official Chart top ten earlier this year, showing that it’s beginning to achieve mainstream success.

A quick glance at the charts on Thursday shows at least four entries that could be considered drill and, while some of their lyrics still contain violence, the people they’re referencing are a lot less obvious.

Ciaran points out that Digga D, whose song No Diet reached the top 40 this week, “was being sent to prison and banned from making music like eight months ago”.

“A lot of drill artists are now doing pretty well,” he says.

“I would be a bit cynical and say this is just the music industry being like, ‘This sound is very exciting, we need to get all of these kids. As soon as they blow up on YouTube we need to get hold of them.”

But when artists are receiving sentences for lyrics in their music, it shows drill hasn’t been entirely accepted.

Ciaran says “there’s a lot of censorship” that’s making it difficult for rappers “to say what they want to say and fully express the realities that they might have been able to express in other genres in the past”.

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Getty Images

Image caption

Jesse Lingard does drill dance move the gun lean after celebrating a goal against Cardiff

The injunction against Skengdo and AM was made last year because they were members of a gang in south London called 410.

They were found to have breached the injunction when footage of them performing the song Attempted 1.0, which features lyrics about rival south London gangs Harlem Spartans and Moscow, was uploaded to social media.

If they’re found guilty of breaching their gang injunction again at any point over the next two years, they’ll have to go to prison.

AM says that worrying about the injunction made it harder to express himself through music at first.

“It made me hold back. Because I wasn’t sure how to put it without breaching or getting myself in any trouble.

“It was a struggle. But as you push, you kind of know what’s good and what’s not.”

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Media captionArmed police stop a drill music video

For Skengdo, the injunction has had one positive outcome – he’s been paying attention to the news a bit more.

“At least once a day man will watch the news and that so I know what’s going on around the world and in our country, because it’s important.

“I’m interested to hear what they’re saying.

“I have to stay up to scratch as much as they do because I can’t be behind bro – or they’re just going to eat us alive.”

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