Out of Control Or Out of Options?

16 year old writer, Laura Khamis responds to Funk Butcher’s recent article ‘Can Music Stop Our Youth Violence Problems?’

Having reflected on the strong influence of music, both positive and negative in youth culture, as a young person I feel it’s time we attempt to respond to this controversial question about whether music can stop our youth violence problems. The Metropolitan police now report that knife crime is up 18% in London, and part of a burgeoning culture of youth violence in Britain.

Today an unprecedented number of young emerging music artists are breaking through and creating opportunities within the UK scene. Through the art of lyricism some are also voicing issues that cannot often be casually spoken. Many use their talents as an opportunity to highlight what mainstream society tends to brush over, and it is only when these young artists rise to the surface of the music scene, that we get to actually hear real stories about their experiences.

The sound of UK Rap and Grime has now reached it’s long awaited peak in the UK with the scene now gaining global notoriety. Aj Tracey and Dave are shutting down sold out shows in the US as well as Skepta and Stormzy stepping to the stages at festivals like Coachella. The diversity of sounds and implicit innuendos appeal because they reflect both a vibrant youthful spirit juxtaposed against the tough realities of our generation in Britain. But beyond binary media portrayals of teens as either social trouble or social fun, the moral outrage and panic directed to young people has to stop. It’s time to address the actual root of the problems of youth poverty and divert from stereotypes that distract from real issues that young people face from affording a home, an education or getting a job.

To understand the complexities of music and youth violence, we need to take a look at both sides within the music industry. Now is a time where collectively, we can bring about negotiation and introduce a balance between the influence of music on young people and better understand their real life stories to ensure things don’t take an unexpected turn for the worse. Beyond scapegoating music, it’s time to listen to the music that is addressing the deeper problems facing young people in Britain.

A tough question lies ahead, who should take the helm at providing the balance?

It’s so hard to generalise the impact of music with a single track and music is entirely personal to an individual artist. It’s fair to say, we have reached a point in time where we need to draw a line between the personalisation of music and a consideration of the messages being portrayed as a society.

Do we really want to be telling our yutes about ‘trapping and shotting’ or ‘shanks and skengs’? We cannot disregard the dominance of the music scene with so many young listeners where trends and influences lay a foundation for the day to day teenage regime. Although there are no hard facts and statistics that link gang related violence to music – its obvious that music may have been a contributing factor to the rising statistics.

Music is everywhere and the idolisation of celebrities including music artists only leads to the role of music being seen as partly responsible. With that there is also a seeming normalisation of a senseless brutality. 2016 was a year where the number of deaths for under 19’s were at an all time high. Figures that should never have reached this point in the first place and as a community we tend to sit there and pray, complain and mourn but what next?

Music is a form of expression that is used to educate people of one’s reality instead of rapping about falsities. It can be used to convey a message of good influential change and with such young listeners, there has to be a considered approach when including the harsh reality of street violence amongst youths. Simply don’t encourage it. If you do want do talk about it, I guess the level of explicitness should be questioned to an extent.

But again, many could argue who has the level of authority to set restrictions on something that has always been a free forming art. If we do go about providing a balance between expression and social responsibility, who will judge what the balance is without deteriorating the freedom of speech for this thriving music scene?

It is all about communication and compromise. We all should carefully come to the realisation of the wider effects of something as small as a verse in one track and the impact it has on today’s younger and ‘woke’ generation. Who is questioning the necessity of such violence in raw music and does it always have to be in correlation with what’s happening on the roads of London, or the UK every day?  Young lives being lost is essentially being justified by the repetitive encounter with violence voiced in the music industry. On the other hand, we have to go back to the current successes of our UK Rap and Grime artists and set things straight without tampering with the originality and art. No rules, just pure encouragement and awareness.

An artist that instantly comes to mind who communicates through awareness and conveys the deeper connotations behind his music, is West London’s Grime MC – Big Zuu. Through both his SBTV session and Bar and Keys, he takes us through a couple life lessons and his reality as a young artist in today’s world. Looking at the bigger picture, his work as a Grime artist is instantly at an advantage attracting the likes of all ages – no limitations. Being able to educate a nation of abandoned teens as well as talk about his personal experiences as a youngster on the block – “I’M JUST HERE FOR THE MUSIC AND TO SHOW THE YOUTH THAT THERE ARE OTHER WAYS TO GET OUT OF THE HOOD.” Not every artist is expected to take the same approach towards music but it is a significant consideration for young people that makes all the difference and this is clearly conveyed in his music.

Talk about grindin’, Man I know about grindin’, That my mum’s teeth that were grindin’, From the stress she was hiding. – Big Zuu

Can radio exhibit a more robust playlist policy showcasing topical diversity in its programming?

With the increasing volume of UK music, radio stations as well as music channels are struggling to give a platform to every huge track. Many artists are not receiving near enough as much radio play as they would, if the perception wasn’t that the majority of content highlights something the general public and the law find distasteful.

To encourage a change for the better, there has to be a collaborative effort from both sides of the fence. For the future of the music industry and its supporters, some work needs to be done to separate music from gang violence.

On the other hand, radio stations also need to become more open minded about all the restrictions to find a basis of compromise which allows more artists to be aired. The combination of progress from both artists and radio stations can result in a win win situation for the UK’s listeners, artists and radio stations.

A recent 67 interview revealed more about the perception of music as a reflection of street life which has now become a common trend. And to some extent it is true, but are 67 making music with the right intentions and are the messages they push with the right consideration? Although traditional radio stations have always had restrictions when it comes to explicit content, the rise of streaming today may require less censorship for some artists on radio stations overall.

LD from 67: “The police label us a gang, but we label ourselves a family and a brand. We went from being people who weren’t doing much with themselves, to being people who make music….”

They say rules are made to eventually be broken and it’s possibly come to that time for radio to lay back with the censoring, catch up and address a balance?

The implications of something as powerful as words which express rightful rage rather than violence beg a distinction. If you, as an artist, choose to say something that’s considered ‘radical’, tell us why you said it? Reasoning your self-expression to us as an audience can help make that journey to understanding the right perception of fact VS fiction. From here, we can contextualise your message and ignore that false implications that may follow.

‘Communication and Compromise’.