A Guide to Explaining UK Drill to Your Family Over the Holidays

It's been all over the mainstream press, about four years late, so here's a handy way to help get nan up to speed.
December 20, 2018, 12:00pm
Dimzy from drill group 67
Dimzy from drill group 67 (Image by Henry Kingston)

It is that most wonderful time of the year indeed, when your third-favourite uncle wants to know why the hell your best friend has gone vegan and the rest of your family needs you to translate “Gen Z” news into something they can understand. Last year, this probably meant showing someone Snapchat at a vague point between a third champagne refill and pudding. This time around, you may need to help your relatives make sense of all the intense headlines that have linked UK drill to knife crime to London being a shithole to, somehow, the end of western civilization as right-wingers know it.

The real low point probably came with a Sun front page on Friday 3 August. It depicted Tim Westwood in a photo with drill crew Moscow 17, who lost two members this year to shootings. The first, GB (born Rhyhiem Barton), was 17 when he was killed on the Brandon estate’s Warham Street in south London in May. Incognito or SK (born Siddique Kamara) was found dead at 23, on the same street, on Wednesday 1 August. And for a front-page story, the Sun linked them both to Westwood in a bid to… actively avoid a human-led story that would look into either what drill is, or what factors may have contributed to the deaths of this young man and boy. Giggs pointed out as much, in an Instagram post that you could loosely translate as ‘go fuck yourselves, Sun editors responsible for this piece.’

Here’s a fun fact, though: the Sun is, as of July this year, also Britain’s best-selling newspaper. Which means millions of people are influenced by what it publishes, whether that journalism is honest or in-depth or empathetic – or not. So yeah, if your relatives were keeping a cursory eye on some of its front pages (again, bit mad to think Tim Westwood in a photo is front-page news but there we go), here’s a guide to getting them to understand more about drill than the “information” tabloid or right-wing headlines provided.

You’re going to need to lay out the basics for starters. A bullet point system might help:

  • Drill is a form of rap music;
  • No no, it’s not the same as grime;
  • UK drill started out in south London;
  • It was like an offshoot of Chicago drill, which bubbled up in the early 2010s;
  • You know how bluesmen and country artists sang about their lives and realities? Drill is like that, for young, predominantly black, men;
  • Drill is not directly and solely responsible for this year’s reported youth crime wave in London;
  • The Met police have directed YouTube to remove UK drill videos from the platform anyway;
  • The links between drill and crime are really complicated. So complicated that neither the police nor local youth services know how to deal with the tragic deaths of young men in some of the communities linked to the music scene. What we do know is that the roots of deprivation, higher rates of exclusion from school, less generational wealth passed down through generations and disproportionate levels of youth unemployment that tend to impact black communities run deeper than Tim Westwood and south London drillers. This getting a bit long for a bullet point, so let’s move on.

“OK, what the hell is it?,” asks someone in your family, on the sofa after Christmas dinner.

So [insert relative’s name], it’s a longer story. Drill first cropped up in the US, in Chicago, somewhere in the early 2010s. Actually, this music site called Noisey made a series of videos about some of Chicago drill’s big stars. No, it’s Noisey with an ‘e’, so like ‘noisy,” but dif– anyway, one of the big names at that time was called Chief Keef. You can watch the video on my phone, look:

“I hate watching things on such a small screen, you know that. What. Is. it?”

Remember last year when [young relative] was singing along to a song about never wearing a jacket, and shouting “man’s not hot” around the sitting room? The actual backing track to that has the UK drill sound. It’s a beat a group called 86 used on their song “Lurk,” which was then used by another group called 67 on a song named “Let’s Lurk,” which—you know what? I’ll leave it there. You’ve heard “Man’s Not Hot” out of a teen’s phone speakers at the bus stop.

Lyrically, you’ll probably find it quite intense. The media fixates on how drillers creatively deploy several synonyms for the word “stab.” Exactly, I knew you wouldn’t like that. Some songs directly address an artist’s rivals, while others are more generally about being young and reckless and boasting about how tough you are.

It has nothing to do with power tools or DIY, [other relative who’s just sat down and is catching up], I beg please stop with those jokes.

“Why haven’t I heard of any of these people?”

Look, I love your house in [insert location] but because drill acts don’t get commercial radioplay, there’s basically no way you would’ve been introduced to them. Last year you made me show you Spotify, remember, then said you’d ‘never want a silly jukebox on your phone’ because you have CDs and your car radio. Some drill videos are uploaded to YouTube too, though the police are working on restricting that.

“Well who are they, then?”

Here are some of the main UK drill names you can try to remember. 67 (pronounced “six-seven” and not sixty-seven—you’ll give yourself away otherwise), who I mentioned earlier, are a group from south London. Teenager Loski raps as a solo artist, sometimes crossing over into more ‘pop’ stuff. He’s also affiliated with a group called Harlem Spartans. Then you’ve got groups like 150, 86 and 410, who are all from south London. One called 1011, are from west London (named after the W10 and W11 postcodes). I know, it’s a lot of numbers.

There are loads of others, who’ve come up since about 2015, 2016. For now, just bother yourself with those names plus Zone 2, Block6 and BSide.

“Will I still need to care in 2019?”

I mean, if you like the music, go for it. But if you want to know more about how some of the darker parts of rap have evolved in the UK, you can read up on it. Noisey did a big piece in May, on the media’s link between knife crime and drill. The same writer did another one for the Guardian, specifically about how that group 1011 are being censored by the state. And if you have an HDMI cable, I can put on this documentary about something called “road rap” (like hard UK rap, which can discuss criminal activity, sorry) on the TV. Sure, sure—after Doctor Who.

You can find Tshepo on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.