‘I put bullets in numerous guys’: the lethal appeal of drill
16 September 2018 23:00
If you want to listen to a song by the London drill group 1011, you can no longer simply find them on YouTube. In an unprecedented move, 1011 have been banned from making any more music without authorisation from the police.
A criminal behaviour order was imposed on them after 1011 admitted to conspiracy to commit violent disorder, and they must ask permission from the police 24 hours before releasing new songs. This comes after more than 30 drill videos were removed from YouTube on the grounds that they were being used to incite violence between gangs. Police argue that the music of 1011 and groups like them is fuelling an epidemic of violence in which knife and gun crime has escalated in London. There have been 98 fatal stabbings in the past year.
The story of these murders is being told through drill. It is a style of music that at once incites conflict and mourns lost friends with to a slow, lyrical beat. Among the lyrics that alerted the police to 1011 were: ‘f*cking with me, that’s curtains, I put bullets in numerous guys’.
But the ban has only made these songs more popular. Clips still circulate on Instagram and are briefly posted on other websites, where they attract tens of millions of views.
In the video for City of God, another group, Moscow 17, wear balaclavas to hide their faces and proclaim: ‘We’re known for the stabbings.’
The month after that music video was uploaded to YouTube, one member of Moscow 17, Rhyiem Barton, was shot dead near his home in Peckham. He was 17 years old and his mother had to clean his blood off the street.
Still, drill is gaining followers, and the most successful groups are making huge profits: ‘The amount of money I am gonna be making would hurt your parents’ feelings…I am gonna be making it rain every single night,’ rap the group 67.
Drill has even spawned a subgenre, gospel drill, where rappers who call themselves Hope Dealers change the lyrics of hit songs to focus on salvation and to lure young people away from a life of violence. Gospel drill has allowed commercial stations such as 1Xtra to be able to play these popular songs without attracting controversy.
So what is the relationship between this style of music and the deaths on the streets – and can it be changed?
A man who wants to be known by the name of his music website, Mixtape Madness, explains the appeal of drill: ‘Music is there to evoke extreme emotion – getting hyped up or falling in love. The best songs feel authentic and encompass real experience; this is what drill does for people in London.’
Mixtape Madness receives around 500 submissions every week. 1011’s songs are still up there despite the ban. While Mixtape Madness would, they say, ‘never want to silence a voice’, they have increasingly been thinking about applying filters.
Drill originated in early noughties Chicago, in opposition to hip-hop, which was felt to be too sanitised. It’s a slower tempo, the subject matter is gritty and the stars are young. Chief Keef was 16 when he signed a multi-million dollar record contract and Lil Mouse was 13 when he became prominent. Chief Keef has said he doesn’t use metaphors ‘’cause I don’t have to. I’d rather just say what’s going on right now.’
Young people in south London related to these raps about working-class black men in communities where they felt neglected, -so they put their own spin on it.
But the way they have done it – wearing balaclavas to hide their faces, threatening others, and using music to amplify a group mentality – is what has caused trouble.
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‘Drill can make you feel pumped up and aggressive,’ says Dan Lucas, who made a documentary about gospel drill for 1Xtra. ‘The new wave of drill is very violent, very personal, trying to create beef with rival gangs, almost like to get a reputation in the game you need to be violent and show your strength. And the people doing this are 17 or younger. They feel they have to put on a balaclava, carry a knife, call out another gang.’
Fights often start over something seemingly trivial, but when pride becomes involved, they escalate. 1011 were banned from YouTube after another group, 12 World, threatened one of their grandmothers on Snapchat. They retaliated by going after 12 World and were found with three machetes, a knife and two baseball bats in their car.
‘Being disrespected is a huge thing and you have to react,’ says Lucas. ‘There’s a link with male pride and the online world fuels the fire – you can embarrass people online and they can feel threatened. That can cost lives.’
Stanley Goupall, whose son Jermaine died aged 15 after being stabbed in the thigh in Thornton Heath last year, has called for videos, as he puts it, ‘that entice young people to get involved in violence’, to be banned from YouTube. Before his son died, clips were uploaded where rival gangs near to where he lived – CR0 and CR7 – taunted each other. It’s a way to get attention, and highly prized YouTube hits. Goupall has questioned YouTube: ‘Anything that sounds or looks violent, YouTube should have someone monitoring that.’ YouTube has said it doesn’t allow videos that are abusive or that promote violence, and that it works closely with the Metropolitan police.
Shaun Bailey, a Conservative London Assembly member and former youth worker, has a zero-tolerance approach to drill. ‘It must be banned. You can’t advertise something that encourages the worst aspects of human behaviour. Can the police blame it for violence? Absolutely, it ramps it up. We have to stop making heroes of people who chant horrible things and don’t take responsibility.’
‘The internet has shortened distance physically and in time. Now you can send a message to people you want to have ruckus with in different post codes and gain notoriety – drill is helping generate that and it’s a seduction for people who want to make a name for themselves. Music is much more of a lifestyle-driver than game, film or any other part of culture. It has more of an emotional link than film. And drill, unlike grime, is not pro the people. The major thing it does is drain hope and normalise some pretty extreme behaviour. They use captivating beats to say terrible things.’
Lefty Ruggiero, a musician who is friends with drill artists and who has lost friends to knife crime, says: ‘When you get into a group, or gang, you act differently. There are people you want to impress and a status quo to keep up with.’
‘Everyone has knives,’ he continues. ‘Don’t think for one second that we are not scared of these stabbings. They’re not stabbing random white women coming home from work. There is a certain demographic getting stabbed. It’s a scary place to be for young black men at the moment and the more you see people walk around with weapons the more you do it too because you are frightened yourself – that’s when things go wrong.’
But Ruggiero isn’t convinced that a drill ban is the solution. There’s a joke going around his friends, ‘that people aren’t allowed to listen to their own music anymore’. He doesn’t condone violence in drill, but sees groups reacting negatively to bans: ‘They feel victimised, and at the same time, if drill isn’t allowed, it is glamorised’.
Mixtape Madness agrees: ‘I had to learn to defend myself’. ‘I’ve been threatened with knives, guns, lost friends through unpleasant experiences and no one wanted to talk about it, so people process it in music.’
That’s drill’s ‘greatest power’, says Bailey. ‘It gathers people together in a way that no one else can. Unfortunately it is attractive. When you are a teenage boy without many prospects living in a materialistic world and you see a group making music closely linked to the lifestyle you want that is attractive.’
Drill is a way to make life-changing amounts of money, quickly. LD, from the group 67 puts a positive spin on it, saying: ‘We rap about violence because we’re from a violent background. But we’re leaving that world and taking people with us.’
Groups like Harlem, 410 and Zone 21 are sponsored by Nike and Adidas. Donna Murray Turner, who runs community group Another Night of Sisterhood in Croydon working with families to stop violence, says: ‘Boys I meet tell me if they can sit at home in their boxers, spit some bars about what their truth is, and get paid and seen all over the world then they will do that. They know that likes online equals cash. This is an immediate-gratification generation. They tell me they aren’t going to go to university to get qualifications – they say that’s “long”. We haven’t equipped them for the long game.’
Shaniqua Benjamin, who is 25 years old and runs poetry groups for young people in south London adds: ‘People don’t think about the future, they don’t even think about the next day. And that impatience extends to feelings. We have to get men to engage with their emotions better. It takes too much effort. Instead, it’s all about manning up.’
She sees violence as stemming from a complicated cocktail of socio-economic problems. Mixtape Madness agrees, citing an increase in the supply of cocaine and a decrease in rehabilitation services – as a result, young people are getting caught up in dealing and addiction. In January, Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London highlighted a knock on effect from cuts in budgets – since 2010 the Met’s funding has gone down by £600m.
As Lucas says, ‘it’s a double-edged sword’. ‘Depending on how drill develops, it could be a legitimate way out. But at the moment, it’s wrong to ignore the effect of these tracks that brag, with violent, graphic lyrics.’ While citing extreme groups like 1011, he also mentions figures like Emil Proffit, who has a studio in Chiswick because it is far away from competing gangs – it allows creativity to flourish without turning nasty. There’s also Finesse Forever, and their co-founder SK, who sees a third way: ‘People come and spit what’s inside of them on the track. I’d rather they let it out on the beat and not the streets.’