The gun debate in the US has hit an all-time climax. Mass shootings across the United States have spurred conflict between gun-control and gun-rights advocates. In the whirlwind of talking points from both sides, you often come across gun-control activists citing our friends across the pond as an example of the positive results of gun-control laws.
Firearms are tightly controlled in the UK, and in return, according to the United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime, have one of the lowest rates of gun homicides in the world. The US, on the other hand, is one of six countries that make up more than half of the gun deaths worldwide, according to a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association in the summer of 2018.
The difference is evident between these two western powers, and a deep dive into the laws of the two countries may provide even more explanation, but how exactly does UK and US gangster rap highlight concrete gun law differences between these two nations?
In the modern, popular vernacular of American hip-hop, gangster rap mostly lives in two main sub-genres; trap and drill. Both genres have roots in particular cities. Trap was born in Atlanta. “Trap” refers to drug manufacturing and distribution houses where a lot of Atlanta rappers emerged out of and into the rap game. Drill, a native sound of Chicago, known for its dark, violent, and nihilistic lyrical content, was birthed from the streets of the Southside of the city.
That’s where we’ll start our dive into modern American gangster rap, Chicago, where gun violence has plagued lower income areas of the city. One of the most notorious drill artists is a rapper by the name of Chief Keef. Keef rose to prominence in 2011 as a 16-year-old. However, run-ins with the law, including an alleged shootout with police, put Keef in and out of juvenile detention centers and house arrests. While for most, being caught in the system might be a bleak and unproductive time, Chief Keef was still able to launch his rap career.
In 2012, Chief Keef released his smash hit, “I Don’t Like.” The song brought Keef into the mainstream. It was remixed by superstar Kanye West, and although the exact number of music video views on YouTube is unknown (due to it being removed, then re-uploaded multiple times), it is well into the multi-millions.
This is where a lot of our comparison between UK and US rappers will live, in the music videos themselves.
In the original music video for “I Don’t Like,” Keef and his companions are pictured toting handguns (starting at 2:25). They wave them around, stick extended clips in them, seemingly unfazed by past gun charges linked to Chief Keef.
Jumping to the trap scene in Atlanta, you see much of the same; artists showcasing guns in their music videos. 21 Savage is a 26-year-old trap artist from Atlanta that has reached mainstream success. Much like Keef, he grew up in a violent, gun-ridden neighborhood; and his music reflects that life. The music video for his 2016 song, “No Heart,” opens inside a trap house where a number of men sit around a table playing poker. Pistols and assault weapons riddle the table as the men play. As the video progresses, storylines arise where 21 partakes in acts of gun violence, including shooting a store clerk with a pistol, and an associate with a semi-automatic weapon.
The reach of trap and drill have moved far past Atlanta and Chicago. As the internet has brought the world closer together, the sounds and style of trap and drill have molded street music across America. Whether you’re listening to rap from New York, Miami, LA, even Canada, you can hear and see the influence trap and drill have had on the music. This is not to say trap and drill artists were the first to feature guns in music videos in the US, but they certainly increased the frequency.
Now to be clear, this discussion is not to pin hip-hop with showcasing guns in American media. Rappers promote guns no more than cowboys in westerns or characters in a Quentin Tarantino movie. The point here is to point out the stark differences between gangster rap in the US and the UK. And while there is certainly censorship, restrictions, and consequences for guns in American rap, it doesn’t come even close to what their counterparts in England face.
Rappers promote guns no more than cowboys in westerns or characters in a Quentin Tarantino movie.
Gangster rap in the UK lives in two main sub-genres; grime and similar to the US, drill. Much like their American peers, many of these artists grew up in low income, high crime areas. Their songs also tell stories of the violence they’ve experienced growing up in these communities.
If you’re familiar with UK grime and drill, you’ve probably stumbled across the YouTube channel, GRM Daily. For those in the US, GRM Daily is a close equivalent to World-Star Hip-Hop. GRM promotes and features music videos from a slew of UK rappers. They currently have over 1.5 million subscribers on their channel.
Of the top seven most viewed grime/drill videos on GRM Daily (they also feature dancehall and R&B), zero have guns in them. Compare that to World Star’s YouTube channel where three of their top seven videos show a firearm.
While there is certainly censorship, restrictions, and consequences for guns in American rap, it doesn’t come even close to what their counterparts in England face.
Mixtape Madness is another YouTube channel that features drill and grime. It’s sort of an underground version of GRM Daily, with about 500k subscribers. You could argue that the artists featured on Mixtape Madness are a bit grittier, a bit more street than the one’s on GRM. Still, of their top 20 videos, zero feature any visuals of any sort of firearm. While I can’t provide any concrete numbers or statistics, in my own experience consuming UK drill and grime, I have never seen a gun in any sort of UK hip-hop music video. There is certainly a lot of finger pointing, and lots of gesturing, but no actual guns.
Some UK drill/grime music videos even feature warning disclaimers. For example, the video for “9er Ting,” a song by Hackney artists Unknown T and KO, starts with a text disclaimer that reads, “This music video is purely for entertainment purposes. The makers of this video do not condone violence of any kind, and seemingly violent acts portrayed in this video are simple artist expression.” Wow. A disclaimer before a gangster rap video? Extremely rare in the US, but not so much in the UK.
If you click through the videos on Mixtape Madness’ channel, you will quickly notice that most of the artists in the videos are portrayed wearing ski masks. In fact, KO, the artist mentioned above is never seen in a video without a mask. Why? Because in the UK, lyrics and visuals can be used in court as evidence. Because of this, the phrase, “No face, no case,” has become popular in the drill/grime scene. If you’re an artist simply rapping about guns or violence in your music, you could be at real risk.
This seems extreme, right? Do rappers in the UK really have to put disclaimers in their videos and wear masks? The answer seems to be, yes. Artists in the US have been unable to perform in certain places due to parole restrictions. The New York rapper, Tekashi 6ix9ine was even ordered by a Judge to refrain from shouting his gang’s affiliation in songs. But a west London drill group, 1011, has been banned from making music without police permission. A court order issued June of 2018 requires the group to notify police within 24 hours of releasing new videos. Additionally, the order says that the group must give 48 hours warning of the date and location of any performance or recording and permit officers to attend. The group is also restricted from using certain lyrics.
The first time I watched the group’s music video for their song, “Guess Who’s Back,” I found myself squinting at the video, confused, something was off. The lips of the rappers in the video didn’t seem to sync up with the lyrics of the song. As I watched, I realized the video wasn’t even the video for the song. It was some other artist’s video with 1011’s song dubbed over. The original “Guess Who’s Back Video” can’t be found.
West London drill group 1011 has been banned from making music without police permission.
While the examination of UK and US gangster rap certainly highlights the difference in gun laws, it also leads us to uncover an attempt by British authorities to censor black music. What happened to 1011 is censorship, and it will do little to actually curb any sort of violence in the UK. Chief executive of the Index on Censorship Jodie Ginsberg said about the incident, “Banning a kind of music is not the way to handle ideas or opinions that are distasteful or disturbing. This isn’t going to address the issues that lead to the creation of this kind of music, nor should we be creating a precedent in which certain forms of art which include violent images or ideas are banned. We need to tackle actual violence, not ideas and opinions.”
It’s sort of sad. You’d think this comparison of UK and US rap would allow for a great deal of enlightenment. Instead, it mostly highlights two major problems in both countries. However, all this does still say something about the gun debate in America. UK and US rappers both discuss guns and violence in their music. The only difference is the guns themselves.
DJ PREMIER VS THE RZA
Music continues to make this unprecedented global quarantine an unexpected treat. On Easter Eve two of the grittiest producers of our generation treated us to a trip down memory lane. DJ Premier and The RZA served up a slew of timeless joints blow for blow. Every cut invoked memories of a time when the critics and fans were universally aligned in appreciating creativity.
Over 150 thousand people zoned in and listened to these legends drop over 40 tracks of pure excellence! The tracks featured the likes of The Wu-Tang Clan, Gang Starr , Jay-Z, Nas, Biggie, Kanye West, Jeru the damaja, M.O.P, Big L, Mary J Blige, Christina Aguilera and many more. It was a Masters class in Hip Hop phonics and the genre’s students around the globe were all tuned in to hear it!
For the unfortunate ones that managed to miss this moment of history, here’s a visual representation of some of the subject matter presented!
Mass Appeal – Gang Starr (The ultimate drive through other people’s neighborhood joint)
Liquid Swords – GZA (This made a lot of MC’s re-evaluate their penmanship)
MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know – KRS-One (DJ’s go to record to make sure their speakers were up to the task)
Wu-Tang Clan – Protect Ya Neck (If getting jumped was a record)
Nas Is Like – Nas (The record that made everyone rewind the first line like wtf did he say?!)
Brooklyn Zoo – Ol Dirty Bastard (The Brooklyn invitation to let everyone know you there)
Yes you definitely played yourself if you decided to cut instagram class tonight! The aforementioned treats were only a couple of lessons shared during this session of night school.
Shout out to the Principals (Swizz Beatz & Timberland) of battles in enhancing our quarantine curriculum by inviting these Professors of Hip Hop. Not only did they raise the bar in competition and quality but they surely injured some necks after the evening’s engaging lecture!
This class originally began with a syllabus calling for one A at the end of the semester. But the students rightfully revolted by keeping it Hip Hop and changing the rules to award the whole subject matter an A+. So on behalf of everyone with an ounce of flavor in their blood, THANK YOU PREMIER & RZA! We appreciate you!
Janita in Love
ECR Music Group recording artist Janita releases her new single “I Do” today, apropos of Valentine’s Day, and you won’t be able to get it out of your head.
The follow-up to “Bliss I Once Had This,” “I Do” is the second single off her new album, Here Be Dragons, dropping May 1st. It’s an honest-to-goodness anthem of love, saying more with less, and building to a gorgeous frenzy upon that killer rhythm section of Justin Goldner on bass and the incomparable Miles East on drums. Damn, that bass, tho.
Is there anything you can say to someone that’s more affectionate than I see you, I got you? Isn’t that the kind of love we all dream of? In that way the song is as much about the subject as the singer, adding to its depth and beauty.
“I have a restless soul, an innate curiosity which pushes me to learn, and to change. Uncharted territory is terribly exciting for me. I often feel like I’m on the edge of something new, even with those I’ve loved for years and years. ’I Do’ is about the renewal of one’s love for someone––love being the most thrilling of all uncharted territories––and a renewal of one’s commitment to exploring all the corners of the map of that relationship.”
Both Janita and producer Blake Morgan are the rare breed of artist that continue to grow in leaps and bounds with each new record, when you wouldn’t expect things could get any better. Janita says more in a two word chorus than many musicians do in a whole song. And Blake’s production has only gotten smoother, smarter, and more focused with every release. “I Do” is another shining example of the continued thoughtful collaboration between the two.
Do you believe two artists can find the perfect partner in each other? I do.
Catch Janita’s album release on April 30th at New York’s legendary Rockwood Music Hall.
Eric’s Top 10 Records of 2019
As usual, this is a “best of” from records I actually purchased this year. If I didn’t buy it, it’s not on the list. Now get off my lawn.
Anak Ko – Jay Som
My favorite album of the year, easily. Jay Som (Melina Duterte) hides gifts in each track that reveal themselves with every listen. (more)
“I’m where I can feel it, I’m where I can feel.”
Big Thief – Two Hands
Big Thief are on fire and released two great records this year. “Not,” from their latest, is pure poetry – particularly this live performance. Seeing a band this connected is a beautiful thing.
“It’s not the meat of your thigh, nor your spine tattoo, nor your shimmery eye, nor the wet of the dew.”
Jaime – Brittany Howard
Brittany Howard’s first record outside of Alabama Shakes is full of magic – from the classic soul of “Stay High” to the funkadelic “History Repeats.” It may be physically impossible to stand still during the last minute and a half of this song.
“I just don’t want to be back in this place again.”
Self Titled – Better Oblivion Community Center
Skillful collab between Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers is some honest-to-goodness songwriting. “Dylan Thomas” is a pure pop nugget I listened to more than my doctor this year.
“I’m strapped into a corset, climbed into your corvette, thirsty for another drink.”
Beneath the Eyrie – Pixies
The new record is as cohesive as their early work, yet nothing like it. Bassist Paz Lenchantin plays the Nancy Sinatra role in “Ready for Love.” (more)
“I’m succeeding as a failer.”
Lux Prima – Karen O & Danger Mouse
Producer Danger Mouse teamed up with Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs for a collection of sprawling space rock. Think Air’s Moon Safari for a new age.
“I’m nowhere, I’m no one, I’m nobody… there’s nobody but you.”
Old LP – That Dog
“Don’t bother to say goodbye, just walk away.”
Itekoma Hits – Otoboke Beaver
My go-to record when feeling aggressive this year was by Japanese punk rockers Otoboke Beaver. These ladies are magically unhinged.
Lets Rock – The Black Keys
The Black Keys made a quick and dirty record this year in search of the next “Louie Louie.”
“Tell me lies, la-la-la-la-la-la-lies.”
Means to Me – Long Beard
Leslie Bear’s jangly dream-pop would be a treat for any Harriet Wheeler fan.
“Only you can make me feel like I need something more to do.”
- King of the Dudes (EP) – Sunflower Bean
- Abbey Road Anniversary Deluxe – The Beatles
- South Of Reality – The Claypool Lennon Delirium
- Groove Denied – Stephen Malkmus
- My Finest Work Yet – Andrew Bird
- Then I Try Some More – Johanna Steinberg
- Nostalgia Kills – Jill Sobule
- Years To Burn – Calexico & Iron & Wine
- Fool – Joe Jackson
- Help Us Stranger – The Raconteurs
- Anima – Thom Yorke
- Minidisc [Hacks] – Radiohead
- The Center Won’t Hold – Sleater Kinney
- Sunshine Rock – Bob Mould
- Planet England (EP) – Robyn Hitchcock and Andy Partridge
- Hyperspace – Beck