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What is drill music?

Many of us won't know about Drill music. It's a sub genre of rap popular with younger generations. But in the past few years it has made the headlines, mainly for the wrong reasons. Videos have been banned, rappers jailed. Here we unpack the culture of Drill and what it can mean for young people.



Donya Lamrhari

What is Drill music?

Drill music is a type of contemporary rap from Chicago. It came to the UK in 2012 and has spread from Brixton to all areas of the country. It's characterised by ominous beats, haunting melodies and dark lyrics.

With roots in disadvantaged inner city London, it appeals to young people who grow up in deprived areas. It is a form of expression for otherwise voiceless communities.

why are we talking about drill

Why are we talking about Drill?

Statistics around county lines point to a rise in youth violence in London, and that rise has been linked to Drill. Many artists wear balaclavas or masks in their videos, and the lyrics often refer to drugs, guns and knives. So the mainstream media and police link the genre with violence and gang rivalry.

In 2018, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, singled out Drill music videos for fuelling the surge of violence in London and asked YouTube to remove any videos that glamorise violence. YouTube then removed 30 videos.

In the same year, two Drill artists, Skengdo and AM, were banned from rapping about certain topics and performing. They breached this in 2019 and received suspended prison sentences.  

two boys leaning on railing both wearing black

why are we talking about Drill?

Our art is imitating our life, not the other way around

Drill artist, Abra Cadabra, argues that the violent aspects of Drill are simply their reality. It's a symptom of our times - youth centres shutting down, cuts to police services. The music is a form of creative escapism from the violence that surrounds young people. It's a reflection of their reality. Not something to be censored. 

Criminalising Drill music is unlikely to reduce violence because it doesn't address the root causes - childhood trauma, intergenerational family breakdown and school exclusions

boots of young person on swing

What is county lines?

County lines is more prevalent in the UK than you might think. It's not just a 'big city problem' that affects young people from a certain age group or background. 

positives of Drill

The hope of Drill

A lot of artists have suggested that Drill offers an escape from crime. Konan, a rap artist, says it's deprivation that devastates communities, not music.

Before music there was just jail, gangs and getting arrested

Drill can be a way for communities to come together to run a business and train young people who have nothing to do. Drill artist Bondakay, son of Mark Duggan who was shot by police in 2011, says 'it's my way of escaping gang life and achieving a better life. I want to move my mum into a house. Music puts legal money into my account. No one helps us round here. So music is the only way'.

tower block at dusk

Working with young people through Drill

Drill isn't all about violence. There are Drill artists who talk about economic problems, solutions to violence, redemption and salvation. We use it to help young people express their thoughts and feelings.

Our Stride programme works with young males who are being criminally exploited through systems like county lines. Three of the young people we support have had access to studio time where they can perform and record Drill tracks under the supervision of a studio engineer. It's a safe outlet, a way to communicate difficult issues. One young person was nominated for an award for his creativity in the studio. 

For more about how music helps young people explore their cultural identity, read our blog on the power of storytelling and listen to our Disrupting Exploitation podcast.