Britain is silencing the stars of drill music – and robbing the disenfranchised of a voice

The harsh reality depicted in the genre is a direct indication of how damaging it would be to suppress it

Monday 28 January 2019 16:47 GMT
Channel 4 clip shows Drill MC using quotes from MPs

Last week South London rap duo Skengdo x AM were convicted of breaching an injunction that banned them from performing drill tracks that named particular places, events or people, or that could be understood as distressing or violent. On 18 January the pair were sentenced to nine months in jail, suspended for two years, in a case that sets a dangerous precedent against freedom of speech.

The original injunction came amidst a flurry of claims that the UK drill genre is to blame for a spike in violent crime in the country’s capital.

In May 2018 thirty music videos were removed by YouTube at the request of the Metropolitan Police. One of the groups affected were 1011, who were later handed an injunction that meant they had to obtain police permission before recording new music. The suggested culpability of UK drill as as a catalyst for violence was in full effect. Skengdo x AM, real names Terrell Doyley and Joshua Malinga, received their injunction on 13 August, 2018.

At the end of 2017, Skengdo x AM topped the iTunes hip hop chart with their 2 Bunny mixtape. A year later they played their biggest headline show to date at Camden’s KOKO venue. Combine this with millions of views on YouTube and they had built a rewarding career.

Through it all though, they’ve had to deal with blame for violence landing on their genre. In an interview with the BBC Skengdo asked: “If you ban drill music, do you think that is going to stop violence?” His blunt conclusion? “Because it’s not”.

Grime and rap music in the UK have long been targeted by the police as a cause of violent crime. The 696 risk assessment form was once deemed a solution, but it became apparent that this was not the case. The form was introduced in 2005 and required music venues to obtain the criminal backgrounds of artists who performed at their establishments. Until 2009 it also required them to declare the ethnicity of their expected audience.

The 696 form lead to artists such as Giggs having UK tours regularly cancelled. In 2017 it was withdrawn following complaints that it unfairly targeted genres of black music. Since then, rappers from the UK have built lucrative live music careers. Home-grown artists are now filling up London’s music venues, and there have been no regular reports of violence. It was a breakthrough to have the 696 form cancelled, but the timing of its removal, and the introduction of these current injunctions against Skengdo x AM cannot go unnoticed. The same community is still being targeted and silenced.

In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said the duo breached their injunction “when they performed drill music that incited and encouraged violence against rival gang members and then posted it on social media.” The rappers’ manager TK has denied that the two were involved in any gang violence. He said the video was uploaded to social media without their knowledge.

The harsh realities depicted in these young people’s stories, is a direct indication of how damaging it would be to halt their voices. This is a genre that comes from London’s poorest areas and is created by the disenfranchised. Last year’s rise in youth violence also ran parallel to the realities of austerity and government cuts that disproportionately affect the communities that produce this music.

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These factors are all part of the discussion of what leads young people to crime, and many see music as an escape from that. Music also holds great therapeutic value in a community where many suffer from PTSD unnoticed.

Skengdo x AM have built a career, and their success inspires young people to take up the arts. Taking away their right to perform their music, is taking away their right to the honest living they have obtained against all odds. It stunts the positive encouragement their success inspires, but Skengdo x AM are set on not letting that happen.

In response to their sentencing they posted a message for their fans on Instagram. “They can’t stop us from rising,” it read, “Not everyone wants to see certain groups of people make it outta the ends, but we’re gonna be an example that you can make it”.

Novar is an artist and writer from North London. His current album Damaged addresses the effects of PTSD on relationships

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