Can Music Stop Our Youth Violence Problems?

What part can music play in averting a disaster?

There’s never been any doubt in my mind that music is a powerful tool of influence. It has been used as a way to convey messages and emotions since time immemorial. For those who lack the articulation and skill to project their true feelings music has always served as the choice tool of communication.

Music is not on trial here. Neither is this a fledgling attempt at some pointless anecdotal click-bait. This is in fact a genuine discussion lingering within the private conversations and inboxes of many music professionals in the industry. What part can music play in averting a disaster?

The UK capital has a serious issue at the moment in regards to youth violence which can be backed up quite readily by statistical evidence. It’s said that on average 5 young people a day are victims of knife violence in London alone. A frightening and worrying number which appears to be growing no end. The knife crime in London has risen to a four year high rising steadily since 2014. In June 2012 there were 1,719 recorded stabbings of people aged under 25 in the capital compared with 1,749 in August 2016, the report found. The most harrowing part of the Police and Crime Committee (PCC) report from 2016 states gang activity accounted for less than 5% of London knife crimes.

What appeared to be restricted to some degree, to albeit a very serious problem amongst young people affiliated with gangs, has now broken it’s borders enveloping any and every one who appears to fall within the remit of “youth”. Knife and gun crime within the capital truly at this stage does not discriminate.

In March this year, UK musician Stormzy embarked on an incredible album campaign promoting his debut body of work ‘Gang Signs and Prayer’ what was notable about the PR run was the route it took the young rapper on. He clearly showed his ability to marry the braggadocios world of UK Rap and Grime with the more esteemed debate platforms like Channel 4 news, where he was very transparent in his interview with Jasmine Dotiwala on his own struggles with Depression. The variety of Stormzy’s appearances were a testament to his multi-faceted character reflected in the juxtaposition of the opposing ideals in his album title. The album promo run afforded Stormzy an opportunity to challenge accusations levelled at him and other notable figures in Grime, which included calling out LBC in particular on his track ‘First Things First’.

“LBC’s tryna’ black ball me,
And tryna’ blame your boy for knife crime” – Stormzy

Notably one caller on Shelagh Fogarty’s LBC show asked whether the genre was in some way responsible for the spike in youth violence. The brief on air discussion allowed the Croydon artist to dispel any myths that those far removed from the music may have had, “I feel like that is such a far fetched statement, for someone to say that Grime music is the reason for the country’s knife crime epidemic, that is wild, how do you even get there?” It appeared to be left quite amicably with both individuals enjoying a newfound education on each others respective positions.

But what if we were to challenge the idea further? Music is without a doubt a source of influence. By definition a modicum of music’s power is its ability to aspire and inspire. That in itself is influence. So on the basis of this rudimentary deduction and Stormzy’s assertion that Grime shouldn’t be held responsible for the capitals plight, can Grime and other popular youth music be used as a tool of engagement to help stop youth violence?

Grime and UK Rap and the emergence of UK Drill (our take on the Chicago counterpart) has received flack based on a very narrow subject pool in regards to songs. A subject pool which unfairly reduces these genres to being all about guns and misogyny (something the versatility of Stormzy’s artistry was able to help downplay) The plethora of topics found in Rap for example are incomparable. It’s a thin take on an unapologetic urban voice which has unfortunately been capitalised upon by large media corporations who get its association to youth. Hence their involvement some 15 years down the line. (The window of opportunity was too good to pass up this time!)

Grime and UK Rap has existed as a viable legal path out of relative poverty and difficult circumstances. That cannot be disputed. Music as a creative artform has allowed thousands of young people to actualise dreams, that may otherwise be limited by academia, qualifications and experience. This has to be taken into consideration when looking at Music so as to not unfairly assert blame whilst overlooking clear and proven benefits. As a practitioner of music in its various forms I have been exposed to its overwhelming benefits. It’s one of the few entrepreneurial fields which arguably has no ceiling based largely in part by the inelasticity of the market. People always listen, buy or party to music irrespective of the economic climate.

Now in the age of the millennials, the draw for young people to music is stronger than ever. The locality of success is ever present and attractive. It’s now not unheard of to see friends and associates from within your very postcode enjoying pretty decent music careers. Within this magnetism can a message be projected to subvert some of the more negative connotations making headway in popular urban sounds? Research already exists from independent Think Tanks like Signifier in regards to the damage negative media representation is having on BAME groups. A representation which the spate of youth casualties is only serving to emphasise.

A very tough question lies ahead, who should take the helm at providing the balance? Possibly at grassroots level with artists? Or maybe radio within a more robust playlist showcasing topical diversity in its programming? Similar to the quota which existed in France requiring stations to satisfy a percentage of domestic music being aired, a similar approach could be enforced to create topical balance rather than content omission or censorship. It could even extend as far as platforms like YouTube who currently monetise material which arguably perpetuates the current problem by allowing a reward scheme to exist. Whatever the perspective the problem is a collective one shared by all, yet the most effective voices in youth culture in Music, have been ashamedly slow to provide solutions possibly for fear of being labelled as responsible.

Let’s talk about it.