Last week the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee heard testimony on live music from a number of witnesses, including from ShaoDow. In his testimony ShaoDow spoke eloquently about how Hip Hop and grime artists find it difficult to get booked at small venues due to preconceptions about their music. These preconceptions seem amplified when it comes to drill music, particularly given the way drill music has been linked to violent crime in the public imagination. I believe this negative characterisation misunderstands the role of drill in today’s youth culture. It further risks stigmatising what I believe to be a vital release valve for many youngsters.
The contemporary debate about drill music, and its role in knife violence among our youth, replays past arguments about other forms of rap music. As the saying goes ‘history doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.’ Its over 20 years since 2pac uttered the words ‘n-s been dying for years, so how could they blame us?’ on the track ‘2 of Amerikaz most wanted.’ Nonetheless, society is still arguing about whether rap music (of which drill is simply a subgenre) is a negative influence. 2pac was right to assert that he did not create the conditions he was rapping about. Likewise contemporary drill musicians did not invent the concepts of lurking, trapping, drilling, scoring shots and so on. For many, these are things they grew up around and had to encounter every day. Why should they be denied the chance to talk about their experiences?
The negative portrayal of drill music also ignores the therapeutic benefits of producing and listening to it. According to Cambridge University researchers, Dr Becky Inkster and Dr Akeem Sule, Hip Hop music can help people experiencing mental health difficulties. Anecdotally this is certainly my experience. As with other forms of rap music, for many of the people who produce and consume it, drill music is the primary way they have to discuss issues that affect them. For those that lack the means to seek therapy, to help them come to terms with the often troubled and violent surroundings in which they live, music can be a way to avoid bottling up their feelings. Without drill as an outlet how else would these repressed and negative feelings find expression? The argument presented by certain figures in law enforcement and politics is that drill music encourages violence. My question is where would we be without it as a mode for people to get things off their chests, or to seek empathy from others in similar situations?
Nothing in our world is uniformly perfect so we should not expect drill music to be any different. I will not argue that drill music does not often deal with difficult subjects. However, it is often the product of people who have lived very difficult lives. My contention is they should not be judged by a different standard that others are held to. Particularly when, to my mind, the creation and consumption of drill music is not without benefits.