by Nina Bhadreshwar  (May 2018)

I've been here before. No, I mean, really I have. Maybe on the other side of the Atlantic but nothing has changed. Still on the front line, trying to marshall an intelligible response to an action of such stupidity and injustice. It's like having a discussion about morality with a skunked-up narcissist - a total waste of energy because the logic isn't there.  But this time, having met with the consequences and real causes of such behavior, I'm going to shout a bit louder hoping a rational mind somewhere will hear me.

Yes, I was here before - 23 years 3 months ago to be exact. After several months covering the struggles of ethnic youth in the UK, NYC and then Watts, Los Angeles, I'd been hired to help write the narratives and bios of the artists then labelled 'gangsta rap'.  I didn't see the gangster at all; I had been living amongst those in London and Watts but these were individuals trying to document a society that nobody else would cover and no media saw as relevant. To me, these artists were brave, resourceful and more socially responsible than the appointed black leaders. Their aim was to give voice to the unheard, unseen.

Yeah, laugh at my rhetoric. Maybe I was biased but history has proved I was right and the censors were absolutely wrong. The censors, instead of empowering their youth, oppressed and slandered them further - their own future - and , worse still, it was for their own political and financial gain they did it - not because they were morally right.

But where are the detractors now?  And, even if the young lives who risked so much were destroyed in the fallout, their message and culture wasn't.  In fact, hip hop, particularly its merging of real-talk and rhythm/rhyme,  became international. It became the most lucrative, innovative industry and largest cultural movement of the past 70 years. Time has cleared the clouds and allowed the future to finally hear the poetic insights and voices of truth of these youth - cut off from their own futures and as far from gangsters as you can possibly get.

The question is not 'Why is drill music so violent?' The question is 'Why are these youths still living in such chronic inequality and injustice with no hope of change?'  The violence is the natural consequence of the environments they are living in and stopping drill videos will not change a thing except you'll see more killings and less music.  The real issue is why the violence or gang membership the only way these youth are getting validation. UK drill music exists because it is the new language of UK youth. They have no other voice. They are not seen, heard or cared for at school, in the home or on the streets. They are young people, our future, yet far from protecting, nourishing and supporting them, we ignore, neglect, deprive and oppress them with institutional racism (and I know, after 17 years of teaching in UK schools; this is worse than it's ever been), lack of trust, apprenticeships, job opportunities, housing, inadequate consistent guidance and mental health support.

The quickest and surest way to get any sort of validation is through social media; the opiate-endorphin-raising ping, the number of likes, the post updates. No one cares unless the digits are there. We have created such an impersonal environment for our youth they have no chance of showing empathy or understanding because it's never been shown them. An algorithm tells them how to behave and those algorithms do not come from street culture; they come from college-educated, white collar, privileged men and women. The ideologies of structure, social control and financial architecture are sitting in offices and snorting coke and popping pills the 'drill youth' are killing themselves over to supply and survive.

'Of Mice and Men' has been the GCSE text for over seventeen years in England; what does that say? A book whose only representation of colour is as a deformed, self-educated, abused slave, whose only representation of a female is as a victim and whore? Young people do not have context these days - this is what they are being officially taught about society.  Forget the teacher yapping on about the Depression and women's rights.  Education has been contorted into a more vicious weapon than any knife in that it is destroying minds and souls and ultimately bodies.  I learned more in my four years in 'gangsta rap culture' than I did in sixteen years of education; I learned that we have the exact same capacity to create as we do to destroy. I watched the most destructive individuals become creative geniuses who created whole industries and wonderful works.

Instead of focusing on how nasty and destructive drill music videos are, how about using that energy to build some creative opportunities and providing mentors who care?  You will not change self-destruction by censoring it, judging it and dehumanising it.

You don't read because you understand; you read because you don't understand. You don't listen because you're tolerant or know-it-all; you listen because you DON'T know it all, not even the half of it.

If you really heard the conversations or witnessed the daily crises our youth go through, you would weep. YOU would be ashamed that a 'civilised nation' could treat its youth in such a way, like they are less than nothing.

It's very easy to rant about youtube gatekeepers and schoolteachers not doing their job but harder to actually proactively change the situation.  UK drill music did not come out of Chicago. It may have some similarities but it is distinctly different, both in lyricism, percussion and content to Chicago. It has more in common with Caribbean toasting and African call and repetition, with grime's pace and functionality.

UK drill is a distinctly UK sound. US drill was consciously unpoetic rap - a dark direct verbal torrent of death threats and morgue scenes. No wit, no word play as emotionally sterile as the nihilistic environment which had created it. No vocal expression to demonstrate the cold-hearted killers such environments had produced. But even in Chief Keef's most dark dirges, there was creativity. The repetition call and response, the African hum which connects to its audience. It's the connections we celebrate, the connection they can't take from us.

UK drill, unlike US drill, uses no autotune. Since jungle and with our heavy Caribbean heritage, we use faster tempos - up to 140 bpm. UK drill is harder than US drill just as grime is faster, fiercer than the syrup of US rap.  Artists such as Tremz, 67, BT, Rendo, STickz and LD use a level of syncopated rhyme, rhythm, tempo and cadence to counter any Shakespearian actor or performer.  Their content may offend but their sophisticated style attracts. However,  the most significant distinction between UK drill and US drill is it uses conscious allusions and has a very ironic lyrical style.  UK hip hop and grime in all its diversifications are a reflection on how folk in the UK really understand racism here. I've lived in both countries and the UK is by far the more racist.  It's deep, in the marrow, in our banks, in our schools, our businesses, our libraries, our health service, our food, our music.

The fact that the most interesting new sub-genre of grime is being yet again demonised shows the lengths the UK will still go to cover up its problem by pointing the finger at its victim. Gaslighting.

But their efforts won't win. Youth from Cornwall to Shropshire to Aberdeen now speak 'street', regardless of their ethnicity. They don't gas London grime artists; they have their own regional stars. This is their language and they are tomorrow. It's time we embraced, nourished, supported and guided them instead of shutting them down and out.

The UK has always been multi-cultural in its roots. It has never ever been populated by this fictional 'white' race; that is a remnant of fascism. I had to learn Latin, French, Old English, Middle English and Old Icelandic to translate English Literature during my high school and degree; Shakespeare was the very first hip hop artist because he used the actual words, slang, rhythms, rhymes and cadences people used to do business, chat, entertain and threaten. He had the audacity to believe people would understand complex, deep , universal stories told in everyman language.

And he was right. I love Latin; its declensions, structure and logic helped me more than any other subject but I don't TALK Latin because it's dead. Shakespeare today would get drill. He would dismiss seventy per cent probably of our prized novels as dead. For language is organic and alive. It's the words the youth are using - not what the establishment is using.

The way to kill the violence is to grow the love, include, support and eradicate the inequalities and injustice that mean our talented youth have to resort to murder to feel validated.

The answer to the problem is not to kill the music. The music isn't the problem - it's our society that is the problem.  If you kill the music, you are taking away the only light, the only outlet they've got.

And you really don't want to experience that darkness...