Labour MPs heard testimony from people involved in the local music scene about changing the narrative to better help London's youth on Monday.
Members of the London music community, as well as people who work with the city's youth and local journalists, were invited by the House Of Commons this week to discuss the supposed link between grime, drill and trap music with recent violence.
In an "Evidence Session" for the Youth Violence Commission focused on "Music, Media and Role Models," 12 London professionals responded to questions from Labour MPs Vicky Foxtrot and Chuka Umunna, as well as academics from University Of Warwick, about the narrative around London's knife-related crime and drill, trap and grime music. They largely agreed that to place blame on these specific genres of music is "lazy" and unfairly targets black music.
"There's a clear correlation between the success of black music and artists of colour, and the dogged determination of the media to paint young people and their potential role models negatively," said Harjeet Sahota, a member of the London Independent Youth Safety Advisory Board. "It's patronising and damaging. When we look at the subject matter of our favourite genres—such as grime and drill—it's drug, sex and violence, which is not unique to these genres."
Sahota added, "Grime and drill do not always equal gang gang gang, even if that is what's being said. It's important to remember that creative license is not reserved for the upper class or white people only."
Jasmine Dotiwala, a Channel 4 music journalist and head of Youth Media at Media Trust, emphasised this point, saying, "Always, always, always, it's black music genres that are asked to justify and explain their lyrics." Ray Oudkerk, an assistant principal at the BRIT School Of Performing Arts And Technology, said focusing on specific genres is "distractive": "Legislating about particular genres of music is really dangerous; I think the sense that music in any way could be an enemy is problematic."
Dotiwala, as well as most presenters, made the point that the connection of drill, grime and trap music to knife-related crime arrives at the end of a long list of governmental decisions and environmental factors that could lead to potential violence. On the point of the government's recent cuts to youth services, Dotiwala said the unwillingness to not see that these cuts are related to violence is a "privileged" position. "There's a whole generation of young people who have been simply been abandoned [by the government and society]. It's really easy to blame youth culture and media and music, but it's not the answer."
The commission also asked presenters about creating more role models for young people within the music community, but many said they already exist—the mainstream is just ignoring them. Abdul-Karim Abdullah, pathway coordinator at Young Lambeth Cooperative, recognised Tinie Tempah as a positive force in British rap. Sahota cited songs such as Novelist's "Stop Killing The Mandem" and Dave's "Question Time" as examples of positive, politically charged messaging in music. Dotiwala said she's interviewed Yxng Bane, J Hus and more on Channel 4 about knife crime, and noted that Stormzy has spoken about serious issues such as depression and youth violence, in addition to Grenfell, the topic that most makes headlines. "Loads of grime stars have talked about knife crime on social media platforms, perhaps where adults aren't living," she said.
Kwame Safo, AKA Funk Butcher and founder of Houseology, suggested additional changes that could come from within the community, such as editing tracks not just for profanity. "A lot of producers are only looking for the profanity in records," he said, "and not looking at the other antagonising aspects, which could cause turf wars, so to speak."
You can read more about the Youth Violence Commission's Evidence Sessions here, with notes the "Music, Media and Role Models" to be added soon.