Drill rap is celebrated the world over, but it is also roundly criticized for glorying violence. Back in the day, even message hip-hop was called into question for voicing images of despair in the Black American community. The debate continues: are the messengers to blame for the lyrics, or is society to blame for providing the ammunition for the words?
Drill, a style of hip-hop trap music defined by its often dark lyrical content and looming beats, first hit the American mainstream in mid-2012 with the success of artists and producers like Young Chop, Chief Keef and Lil Durk.
There is one school of thought that hip-hop artists have become puppets not only of corporate America but also of the government in an effort to cause Black people to self-destruct and in the process, profit from the self-destruction.
Lawyer Hakeem Muhammad and imprisoned hip-hop artist D Rose recently unpacked all these issues in an episode of “In the Cell With D-Rose” podcast. The episode title was “The Deception of Gang Life.” The episode was posted Jan. 20 on the Black Dawah Network YouTube channel.
Muhammad is a Boston-based public defender, according to his LinkedIn profile. Originally from Chicago, he is also a Muslim and hosts the podcast.
D Rose, also known as Ahbir Sardin, was part of a crew of drill rap artists that included Lil Reese, Lil Durk, and Chief Keef. In 2014, he was arrested and charged with the murder of 14-year-old high school student Venzel Richardson. In February 2017, D Rose was sentenced to 40 years in prison for his role in the murder. D Rose, who is also Muslim, was known for his street drill rhymes.
Drill artists often talk about their gang affiliations and their opps, as in opposition or enemies.
According to D Rose, boasting about opps is a way for a rapper to flex his ego, but he warns that by stirring up dangerous beefs, they are actually playing into the hands of “white supremacists who just want them being locked up or dead.”
He blasts artists who know better. “They’re not oblivious to the fact…they got common sense,” D Rose said. “Rappers know like they got a lot of power and all that, so they know. But they just probably need me to speak on it and others like me.”
D Rose said hip-hop artists need to focus on the “real opp” versus the so-called opposition of other artists.
“The real opp is white supremacy…white supremacy man is all around us, like the systemic racism –you see it in jail like, man,” said D Rose, who has been in prison for eight years.
Muhammad agreed and added that white supremacists want to see one of two things happen to Black people in America — to throw them in prison or have them self-destruct by attacking each other. And, he said, hip-hop music is being used to achieve these goals.
D Rose acknowledged Muhammad’s point, and expanded on it. He said that the music industry promotes artists who talk about negativity in order to create chaos in the Black community. “Look how powerful I am (because) of negativity…I’m just not a negative person but look how much influence I get for being negative, talking about negative things,” D Rose said.
He encouraged artists to imagine how much good they could do if they used their influence to promote positivity in the community. They can “just turn it around,” he said.
Activist Shareef Muhammad, director of the Black Darwin Network, joined the podcast to address the deceptive hold that gangs have on the Black community and hip-hop artists.
According to Shareef, it is natural for Black people to break off into like-minded groups.
“As displaced Africans, we have been violently separated from our roots,” he said. “Gangs are a (result) of having lost our African identity…we have tried to fill that void by creating new associations…but the problem is these new associations do not serve us.”
Instead, he said, gangs serve the goals of white supremacy.
Gangs play into the plan to kill or incarcerate Black people, D Rose pointed out, and hip-hop is being used as a tool. “Gang members believe they’re their own man but they are a product of the system. Street life is a social laboratory…Gangs are unwitting agents of white supremacy.”
The rapper described current hip-hop as “a soundtrack to Black destruction and the devious plot of corporate America to profit from Black self-destruction.”
Drill rap is the tool being used today as Gangsta rap was in the past. “White corporate America monetizes our pathologies and encourages criminality” through rap music, D Rose said. But he said, unlike hip-hop artists of the past — like Tupac — whose deaths shook the community, drill artists are “disposable” in the minds of corporate America.
“The murder of King Vaughn and others show how expendable these particular artists are,” he said. “The system replaces them right away with another artist who looks the same and says the same things.”
However, according to hip-hop journalist Andre Gee, we shouldn’t blame rappers for a problem America created.
“Much of the blame for societal ills then falls on the Black artists whose lyrics reflect them,” Gee wrote in Complex. “. “They’re framed as willful pawns in a toxic agenda to create and sustain violent communities. Rappers shouldn’t be considered tools of white supremacy as much as reflections of its by-design flaws.”
Gee wrote that by blaming hip hop, the blame gets shifted “away from the powerful people whose negligence creates poverty, and hence violence. If that’s all part of some deal artists conspired on with labels, it seems like a pretty bad one.”
“If a garden of flowers failed to properly bloom in sweltering heat, would we blame the environment or blame the flowers?” Gee asked.
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Blame aside, music companies and social media seem to make more money when violence is sparked by hip-hop and its artists.
Social media has profited from hip-hop gang videos that have led to a string of murders, especially in Chicago.
The more hip-hop gang videos are viewed, the more revenue YouTube earns. While YouTube gets paid according to how much an ad is viewed, ads are built into the video streaming. In 2020, YouTube’s global ad revenue was close to $19.77 billion.
Gang-glorifying content doesn’t violate community standards, a YouTube official told the Boston Herald.
But YouTube’s violent criminal organizations policy states, “Content intended to praise, promote, or aid violent criminal organizations is not allowed on YouTube. These organizations are not allowed to use YouTube for any purpose, including recruitment.”
So how come gang-related music videos aren’t banned? YouTube does allow content that “includes harassment if the primary purpose is educational, documentary, scientific, or artistic in nature,” such as songs or music videos.
Social media platforms including Google and Facebook, instead of curtailing the online gang presence, allowed the violent gangs to prosper on social media.