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.
5 For 5: From Blak Emoji’s Kelsey
I caught Blak Emoji at Arlene’s Grocery last year where their infectious electro-pop burned down the house. Their recently released album KUMI combines sexy synths with alt rock swagger and is sure to get your ass on the dance-floor.
When I asked singer and creative mastermind Kelsey about his influences, he obliged with 5 for 5 – five tracks each from five of his favorite artists.
When Doves Cry This is one of the best American pop songs with an avant-garde tinge I’ve ever heard. There’s never been another song that sounds like this. Musically unique and lyrically brilliant. Mecca of pop songs and an incredible less is more composition. This still sounds like one of the most cutting edge song to ever top the pop chart.
Controversy This is one of my top 5 dance songs. The vocal melody is so simple and catchy. There are so many instruments with melodies of their own bouncing off each other here. And somehow they don’t get in the way of each other. The lyrics have this psychoanalytic and existential quality. He pulled that off in a dance song. One of the best electro funk songs you’ll hear.
I Wanna Be Your Lover Wow, one of my favorite falsetto performances hands down. Prince’s vocal here is stellar. It’s a clever dance pop song with an infectious hook and crooning soul. So perfect and classic.
The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker I was floored first hearing this. It’s like minimal avant funk. The lyrics paint a vivid, playful picture where you can practically see the weirdness of this relationship right before your eyes. Plus the drum programs and beats here are still creatively ahead of it’s electro-funk time.
Condition Of The Heart This album track doesn’t get mentioned a lot but that doesn’t matter. It’s an eclectic ballad track for a rainy day, with those sweet ghost like keyboards. It so Prince! I miss this man. Learned so much from him musically, more than any other artist.
NINE INCH NAILS
March Of The Pigs Straight up bombastic industrial rock in a 7 meter. Classic crafted angst in less than 3 minutes. One of my all time favorite NIN songs. It makes me feel better. It’s aggressive but so much fun.
All The Love In The World I think this is one of Trent’s most beautiful pieces. It almost has a dub reggae quality to it. He sounds so revealing and broken here and it’s so great! Then the last part of the song with the 4 on the 4 beat with those chords and vocal build up! Trent has a unique style of writing surprises that always work.
The Fragile Sonically next level minimalism and then later cinematic. The hook here sticks in your head in the best way. “I won’t let you fall apart” is such a great, catchy uplifting chorus. But it kicks ass at the same time.
Even Deeper Another track with that sonic brilliance from the same album of the previous title track song. The chorus here, again so infectious. Dr. Dre does a great job here assisting on the beats.
Echoplex This chorus right here! The guitars sound so raw and cool. And that BEAT tho! I wish I wrote this song. Another one of my favorite NIN choruses lyrically and melody wise over those unpredictable dark chords.
Airbag If I play this song I have to play it at least 5 times in a row. I can’t even begin to describe how incredible this song is. Sonic and hooky brilliance!
Everything In Its Right Place Ah, I LOVE the chords in this song. Like major keys don’t sound this warm and mysterious. This is like a hypnotic mantra personally. I never get tired of this one.
Planet Telex Another album opener with a bang like Airbag (and Everything In Its Right Place, sensing a theme here). Same deal with the incredible melody, chords and broken pocket processed drums. They make the simple sound so complex yet catchy. That chorus…
Separator Yet another with the beautiful melodies and beats. Thom sounds like he’s floating here. Calm, yet soulful in his own way. Love the way it builds. The perfect night driving song. Like perfect. Can we give a shout out to Jonny Greenwood please?
True Love Waits This song is one of their most beautiful, it brings me to tears, It’s such a revealing, clever love song, like the one that says what you want to say in a poetic way. The piano changes are hauntingly heavenly. I prefer the new studio version of this one. This song is what love is to me.
Infinite Love I heard this song a few times when it was released on the downlow and had trouble getting an MP3 of it then. Erik the drummer was nice enough to send this to me (sweet dude). It’s probably in my top 3 Little Dragon songs. I love everything about this electro chill track. This B side should’ve have ended up on an album. It’s too friggin’ good!
Turn Left This keyboard melody (and later vocal) drives the whole song. Awesome catchy, quirky electro pop soul track. This was the first Little Dragon song I fell in love with. Yukimi oozes effortless soul.
Blinking Pigs Was hooked on this song from first listen. It’s one of Little Dragon’s best electro soul pop songs in my opinion.
Pretty Girls I love the verse melody so much and the sound of the keyboards and programs here. Such a great track.
Underbart I love the sound of this one so much. Brilliant electro pop piece with Yukimi’s angelic vocals and infectious chorus. The video is killer too.
Shit Damn Motherfucker This is the one I go back to most on this debut album. I love how it’s so smooth and chill yet the lyrics could have been in a Johnny Cash song.
Playa Playa One of my favorite basslines. You’ll never get it out of your head. This tune is so pocket funky and the vocals are just killin’. All musicians should study this tune, especially when it comes to space. Pino and Questlove lay it down hard AF here!!
One Mo Gin I’m floored by the laidback hypnotic groove, classic soul and lyrics of this tune. So behind the beat but dead on. Brilliant track that’s vivid. Again, this bassline! Damn Pino (Palladino).
1000 Deaths This was a surprise for me. D goes psychedelic acid funk rock here. It’s almost Funkadelic-like with a Sly Stone vibe, heavy rock and hard funk. Try not to bob your head to this political funk rock banger.
Another Life The arrangements, rhythm section and damn, this song is like a wedding song. It’s a beautiful, definitive love song for ages. Love the vocals arrangements and D’s classic soul adlibs at the end.
2 CHAINZ – RAP OR GO TO THE LEAGUE
Rap or Go to the League is as consistent as the executive producer’s (Lebron James) career. 2 Chainz and his team go hard in the paint from the opening tip to the last shot. The song and flow called on “Forgiven ft. Marsha Ambrosius” to set things off lets you know exactly what you’re in for.
This well thought out project illustrates the growth of one of the more colorful ballers in the rap game. He effortlessly controls the pace from track to track with a variety of teammates. Whether he’s turning up the intensity with Kendrick Lamar on “Momma I Hit A Lick” or running the three man weave with Lil Wayne and E40 on 2 Dollar Bill, his handle stays tight.
2 Chainz and his team go hard in the paint from the opening tip to the last shot
2 Chainz and his team go hard in the paint from the opening tip to the last shot
There’s no exhibition game to be found here! The all star team assembled took this to heart and showed out. Check out the Amerie summer street ball classic moves Ariana Grande mesmerizes the crowd with on “Rule The World” .
This is an album where you can go Steph Curry style and just toss it up by pressing play or hitting shuffle. Wherever it lands you’re bound to score with ease. So strap up your kicks, put on your head phones and head to the court! March Madness has officially begun and 2 Chainz got ball!
40 Years of Joe Jackson
Singer/songwriter, composer, and pianist Joe Jackson brought his remarkable backing band to New York’s Town Hall for two nights last week, showcasing four decades of Jackson’s prodigious discography. Longtime bassist Graham Maby, rock solid drummer Doug Yowell, and guitarist extraordinaire Teddy Kumpel owned the stage as they ran through old and new tunes with dexterity and finesse.
I’ve seen a Joe Jackson concert or two in my day, but this is the first time I heard him do a faithful take on “Steppin’ Out.” Joe usually chooses to deconstruct that song live, slowing it down and replacing its new-wave beating heart with actual soul. At Town Hall, Jackson went so far as to drag out the original drum machine used on that tune, and the band played along gleefully.
They tore into Joe’s past with ferocious takes on “One More Time,” “Sunday Papers,” “I’m the Man,” and “Got the Time.” They grooved appropriately to classics like “Breaking Us in Two,” and “Is She Really Going Out with Him,” but also made time for deeper cuts like “My House” and “Stranger Than Fiction” from 1991’s underrated Laughter & Lust.
Not one to rest on his laurels, the show also featured plenty of songs from his excellent new record Fool, with exquisite takes on “Fabulously Absolute,” “Dave,” “Strange Land,” “Big Black Cloud,” and the haunting “Alchemy.”
The band pulled a few covers from the magic hat, including Steely Dan’s “King of the World” and a take on The Beatles “Rain” where Joe changed all the chords. Classic Joe.
Music3 months ago
2018 in Music
Movies2 months ago
Is it Time for Movies to Move on from the Theater?
Music3 months ago
20 OF THE MOST DISTINCT VOICES IN HIP HOP
Op Ed2 months ago
SHUT ‘EM DOWN
Movies2 months ago
Roma: Return of the Auteur
Movies2 months ago
If Beale Street Could Talk
Movies2 months ago
Daniel Ortiz Rants on Glass
Music3 weeks ago
40 Years of Joe Jackson