Earlier this year we reported on the controversy surrounding rap sub-genre ‘drill’ in the UK, as YouTube removed around 30 drill-music videos following complaints by police that they were driving gang tensions and violence in London. This week, Spotify and Apple Music have faced criticism over drill music’s availability on their platforms, including tracks by a rapper named ‘JaySav’ who was murdered earlier this week.
The Sun newspaper reports that Apple and Spotify have removed some drill tracks, but that others remain available. Cue outraged politician: “This is another example of internet giants cashing in on the proceeds of street violence and crime,” said MP John Woodcock. “Where there is a direct link between the horror of knife crime and profits that clearly should not be allowed – Apple and Spotify need to take action.”
Apple hasn’t commented while Spotify’s statement is “Any content that breaks local laws will be removed immediately”. That illustrates the sensitivity of the situation: police and anti-knife-crime campaigners see drill music as not just glorifying violence generally, but of celebrating and encouraging more of it towards specific rival gangs in the real world – so individual songs can be accused of breaking UK laws on those grounds.
Yet as artist Symeon Brown recently pointed out with a music video, politicians themselves have used violent language publicly (for example, about knives and nooses in relation to Prime Minister Theresa May’s political-survival prospects), which somewhat undercuts any moral authority on these grounds.
Emotions run high around this kind of topic, understandably so for anyone who has lost friends or family members to gang violence. “It’s blood money and they need to take responsibility… How can they keep on doing this while our children stab each other to death?” is the quote in The Sun from Jen Lock, founder of the Lives Instead of Knives campaign, for example.
These voices matter, but the DSPs are taking the right approach in being guided by police in terms of specific, illegal content, rather than censoring an entire sub-genre. Given Spotify’s experience earlier this year over its hateful-conduct policy, when it u-turned on its decision to de-playlist R. Kelly and XXXTentacion, it is no surprise to see streaming services using local laws as the key factor in their content decisions, rather than media pressure.