Last week – for the first time ever – Skengdo & AM, two rising UK drill rappers, were handed a nine-month suspended jail term for performing Attempted 1.0 at their headline show at KOKO in November. Across the music industry, It’s raised some heated debate.
Should music be censored? Is this censorship racially driven? Is drill music like punk back in the day? Raw, angry, dissatisfied. Could it be a force for positive change? Where do we as a society draw the line between songs that incite violence and songs that document violence? And importantly – who decides?
Out of the myriad talking points at play here, there are two key ideas to consider: first, the concern that drill music is being censored by the very system that has fundamentally failed black British youths in urban areas.
Is the system trying to sweep these realities under the proverbial British carpet?
Documentary photography, film and music have always been powerful agents for change. They allow a platform for the disadvantaged to articulate their experiences, sometimes uncomfortably in the face of the system that created that disadvantage.
The fact that drill – despite being relatively subcultural – is being referenced in mainstream press outlets nationwide, goes to show music’s power to provoke discussion and raise awareness.
The second key question in the debate is much more important than censorship: why are young, aspiring musicians rapping about gang violence, knife crime and drug dealing?
Against a backdrop of 30% less spending on youth clubs, unaffordable university fees, and 35% of young black Londoners being classed as underpaid, we start to see a complex web of social issues contributing to a feeling that the ‘world is neither made by them or for them’ (Protein Youth Report, 2017).
This tough stance on censorship feels like a misplaced band-aid on a wider wound. I say, misplaced, because it’s actually preventing positive dialogue between cultural leaders like Skengdo & AM, and the MET, which is where the work needs to be done.
Really, labels, press, brands and the government need to work together to provide support in the places they are lacking. It seems that there is a multi-pronged strategy needed: better community initiatives to tackle the problems at source, improved discourse between the MET and the cultural leaders who deserve the right to vocalise their struggle, and sensitive and enriching involvement from brands too.
This is a fertile space for brands with a purpose to play a positive role in society. Brands that have a permission to play in this space, from those that kit the artists out in their garms for their videos, to those that give out black cards for their restaurants.
They could help build infrastructure projects to improve community outreach, invest into arts & culture locally to empower a new wave of musicians, use resource to help rappers document, but not glorify their struggle.
Exhibitions, content, workshops, empowerment days, these are all spaces for the right brand to help shape the movement into a positive force, and build powerful Cultural Capital.