Discussing the Link Between UK Drill and Crime

May 11 2017 BY Jamal Sobers


It’s May 11th, 2017 and we’ve lost 6 people under the age of 25 across London to knife crime in the past 2 weeks. This is a concern for anyone in the community, a cold reality that needs to be addressed and somehow alleviated. In attempting to understand this, I’ve noticed how discussions have been held as an attempt to understand a reason for why this is happening, one suggestion is music being the main influence behind the crime spike, more specifically the rise of the UK drill sound. 

Now I could find and dish out more stats showing the spike in knife and gun crime. I could analyse when the drill sound became popular in the UK, dissect the lyrics and view count it brings in and attempt to draw a comparison between the sound and the crime. But, as I want to stay away from a stat bias this article can stand as a humble opinion on the question at hand.

My two pence in this conversation begins with me laying out my understanding of what music is and how it effects people. Music is a form of artistry. Artistry is set out to provoke thought or action, whether on the conscious or subconscious level. The more you listen to the music you like, the more it will affect and shape your mindset and behaviour. An example of this is how Beyonce strategically dropped “Formation” which resulted in a spark of cultural consciousness amongst women. In a similar breath, Drake’s introspective style has been said to be a strong reason behind some groups men displaying their softer emotions, especially in their music.

In these cases you can say it’s easy to put two and two together, I mean if there’s an influx of music with themes of street violence, then that’s where we point the finger when the stats spike right? Wrong. In fact, I believe drill music is an easy scapegoat. I can see why it’s becoming the face of deeper-rooted problems in our communities, but don’t agree that it’s the problem itself. 

So what is going on behind the music?

Where do these artists get their inspiration from? Everybody is susceptible to their environment and as an artist, your job is a creative form of social commentary. If there isn’t a climate of gun and knife crime to draw inspiration from, the content of the music would speak a different tone. Avoiding the chicken or the egg conversation, if we the focus on the message behind the music we can tell that it speaks on issues of poverty, trauma, substance abuse, lack of support and options, family structure and more. But, as an artist, you have a choice to either glorify or criticise what you’re seeing. If you find yourself with a following it’s wise to have an overstanding on what responsibilities should come with this level of influence.

What’s the appeal?

Drill music has a niche but expanding the audience. It is the soundtrack to everything gritty and grimy, the flip side to what’s on the pop scene. If you listen to drill you listen to turn up. The baseline is meant to make you make that sick face and do gun fingers at every ad-lib, and for this reason is why it’s enjoyed so much. Drill in its essence is a soundtrack to a grimy reality that many people are living. It’s in most cases a catchy mask on a very real lifestyle, and that’s appealing to both the curious audience who can’t directly relate and those who can.

The ability to live amongst this and illustrate your circumstances over beats while people dab to your trauma is what I’d describe as some kind of hood alchemy. It’s making gold out of the realities you’re living through. My thoughts on the drill scene is that talent can be faceless and appreciated in its variety. This however, does mean they should be free from criticism altogether.

In appreciating drill for what it is, you cannot immediately expect a change in the content of the music. It’s naive to assume that there isn’t an audience of people who can relate to and want to feel the vibe that drill music brings, it’s a supply and demand scenario. Like any genre, at times the content, at times, can be lazy and repetitive which can lead to it be more destructive than creative, artists should be mindful of that. As a new genre, it should be given room to grow as the artists look to push and do things in a way that makes them stand out from the noise. 

In a scene that encourages the diversity of sounds; Grime, Rap, Trap, Afrobeats, Afro-funk and so on, all having their audiences, the drill sound is just another reflection and extension of what London is. Whether you agree with it or not, it’s an appreciated aspect of the culture. There is a formula to drill and it works, deviating from that would only change what it is.

The dangers of too much drill?

On the flip side of the conversation are questions on what we are actually taking in when we listen to drill and how it effects your mind frame. The tempo and baseline make you feel a certain way, it’s almost war-like music, and unrivalled in it’s ability to bring out your inner roadman. You can draw comparisons between drill and the war drums of history that were used to round up soldiers and prepare them for battle. But the cause for concern is whether the drums can still trigger the soldier in the absence of war. That same sonic energy used to rally armies, can in some instances be related to modern day drill. The normalisation of gun and knife crime by drill music is evidence that what’s portrayed is the reality for some. The question is how deeply is this affecting its growing audience? 

It most definitely paints a glamorised image of the stereotypes of road life. It’s a rap form so I doubt that comes as a surprise to many. Despite the negatives, drill has its place in UK music, the same way gangster rap is a part of the fabric of East and West Coast Hip Hop, drill might be here to stay. It’s enjoyable in the right moments but, like anything can be detrimental if you abuse it.


With the easy exposure digital platforms can provide, there is minimal regulation on for who can and can’t be exposed to drill. I’m not suggesting that drill is some kind of savage vacuum where if you listen to it once you’ll find yourself wearing balaclavas and looking for pagans, but younger audiences are always vulnerable to the influence of music, a fact always worth considering.

In a conversation I had with a friend of mine (who happens to work in a school) he spoke on how the majority of the pupils, from the age of 12, upwards listen to nothing but drill music. He also wondered if it played a role in influencing behaviour in phases or in the long term. Having both grown up listening to gangster rap from an early age, neither of us can testify to it having a detrimental affect on, but then again we were never living the lifestyle it illustrated.

It’s hard to say that enjoying drill music is the catalyst to gun and knife crime without it sounding like a bit of a reach simply because it addresses situations that have always been present. It’s most definitely influential and if you’re around the lifestyle that drill illustrates, constantly listening and absorbing the sound, you should be concerned on how it can potentially perpetuate your situation. To me the issue lies less in the music and more in self discipline. It’s sensible to treat music like a diet and get a healthy balance of its diversity or leave what doesn’t sit with you alone.

So how does drill drive crime rates?

In answering the question there are so many other factors to consider before pinning the blame solely on drill music. In fact I’d place a safer bet on government cuts and closure of youth clubs/career development facilities having a bigger role in the spikes in crime, but that’s another discussion altogether. We shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water with drill music, without considering the full impact of societal factors that lead up to the music being created.

The justification of this link is based on what I believe to be a misunderstanding on 3 levels:

Data: There isn’t enough data to draw the link between the two, it’s limited due to the age of the genre.

Impact: Though drill has a growing reach, it is not outshining the reach or influence of the mainstream. Drill artists just don’t have the privilege of getting the big push to be able to influence.

Lifestyle: The lifestyle that drill portrays, where exciting is not for everyone to replicate and the artists make it known with heavy distinctions of who is and isn’t built for it.

Drill and its influence

In the conversation of music and influence, it’s down to the artists and the audiences to understand the exchange. Drill artists (as well as any other) have a responsibility to grow through their craft and the experiences they come from, more importantly they have to understand their audience and how their message is received if they wish to elevate. Their audience should differentiate between reality and performance. The moment someone steps into a booth and creates music we can view them as an artist. They aren’t in the booth to shoot the sound engineer and stab studio equipment, they are there to perform, in turn, you can appreciate their craft without wanting to act it out.

To casual onlookers it’s too easy to assume the link. Statistics are waiting to be pulled out of the air and into the discussion but, in the absence of drill, we only have to ask how crime figures would be impacted to recognise the scapegoat. Drill music doesn’t help itself against the accusations, but there’s always a deeper story behind those who sadly fall victim to knife or gun crime. 

It’s easy to put pressure on the artists to change, but even if they decide to stray away from the punchy appeal of drill and deviate towards painting metaphysical-lyrical-syllables in their visuals, there’s still a chance that the underlying community issues would be left unresolved and unspoken. Drill, in a sense, illustrates what we would rather sweep under the rug or demonise, and through it’s negatives can teach us a lesson on the realities that a lot of young people grow up in. 

Closing thought: A way out

A general truth to take from the lifestyle portrayed in UK drill music is the want, and need, to leave the crime cycle. If you were making a lane for yourself earning hundreds of thousands, even millions of views, why would you want to jeopardise that opportunity to stay in that lifestyle? It sounds appealing over an instrumental but nobody wants to be stuck in the real life predicaments that drill music portrays, it’s important to understand this. Though drill may be a valid avenue, it is not the only one. For some artists the appeal of drill speaks to what they know and live through but it’s not everyone’s story.

Where I don’t agree with glorifying tragedy, I also don’t agree with condemning someone for portraying what they’re subjected to unless you can offer an exit strategy. This is an important factor of the bigger conversation, because ultimately having an opinion is easier than solving a serious problem. Conversations need to remain constructive and we need a deeper understanding on what goes on behind the music IF we really want to see a change in both the content and in our communities.