Drill down: YouTube is ready to take on its role in drill music with new documentary

Amelia Heathman
No holds barred: YouTube is confronting its role in fomenting the popularity of drill rap music with Terms & Conditions, a new Originals documentary: YouTube

To say the relationship between YouTube and drill music is complicated is an understatement. The music has been linked to knife crime deaths across London, with rival gangs uploading videos to the platform to taunt one another and their victims. An Old Bailey trial is currently examining the killing of 22-year-old Bright Akinleye, who was stabbed to death on a drill video shoot in Euston following an alleged “online war of words”.

It’s interesting, therefore, that this is the topic the video platform decided to investigate for one of its first documentaries. Terms & Conditions: A UK Drill Story is a 80-minute film examining the phenomenon of drill and its explosion across London, its association with crime, and the figures behind the songs. You can watch the film on the YouTube channel GRM Daily now.

“At YouTube, we were aware of how popular drill music was on the platform and the new talents finding a voice through it. At the same time, there is an awful lot of controversy around this genre,” explains Luke Hyams, head of Originals in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “We felt there was a definite opportunity to go beyond the music and tell the story of the young people who have chosen it as their way of expressing their voices.”

Drill initially came out of Chicago as a form of rap that is slower in tempo than other forms at about 60 to 70 beats per minute. It exploded in the UK in about 2011, with artists using YouTube to broadcast their music.

To tell this story, YouTube enlisted the help of Andre Johnson, aka Mr Montgomery, a drill journalist from Brixton, to be the film’s narrator. His connection to the scene was invaluable: he’s already worked with many of the rappers and has spoken out about the violence of those using drill, particularly after his friend Siddique Kamara, aka Incognito, was stabbed to death in 2018. For Johnson, the documentary was about showing the two sides of drill and demonstrate what life is really like for young black men in London.

“I spoke to a lot of mums, youth workers and people within the community who want to stop knife crime. And we’re also seeing artists that are having their videos taken down [as a result], and that’s their livelihood, where they’re making money,” he explains. “Everyone needs to be heard and this documentary is about reaching the middle ground.”

Mr Montgomery, a drill journalist, narrates the story in Terms & Conditions (YouTube )

As well as exploring the topics the drill rappers are talking about, such as poverty and anger at life in inner-city London, there’s also a focus on the music in the documentary. Fraser T Smith, who produced Stormzy’s debut Gang Signs & Prayer album and played the piano during Dave’s Brits performance last week, worked with the rappers to create original songs for the project. The likes of Drillminister, who is running for London Mayor and female rapper Lavida Loca created tracks focusing on topics such as gentrification and mental health. Each song will be released daily over the next few days on GRM Daily’s channel, or you can listen to them via YouTube Music.

“The beat makes the genre, not the message,” says Johnson. “It’s important to show different messages to young people so they know they can do things differently.”

Terms & Conditions is part of the new push by YouTube to highlight its Originals content. There are 105 planned in 2020, with 12 across Europe, Middle East and Africa, from Justin Bieber’s Seasons series to a collaboration with the UK YouTuber Behzinga on his transformation from gamer to fitness fanatic as he trains for the London Marathon in April.

While it’s easy to compare the success of this new Originals output to the work of the other streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime, really the big competitor for YouTube Originals is, well, YouTube. One billion hours is watched on the platform every day but Hyams is hoping projects like this will breakthrough.

“Eight-six per cent of views on UK-produced YouTube videos come from elsewhere in the world. There’s a massive appetite for what we’re producing in the UK and all I want to do is feed into that with the shows we make,” he says.

Bringing on Bafta award-winning director Brian Hill to direct Terms & Conditions should hopefully give it some legitimacy outside of the platform too. Is YouTube going to be courting the awards shows with its new programming? Honestly, Hyams says he’s more concerned with the feedback in the comments section.

“The thing that excites me is I live in the comment section to see how people have been motivated to take the time to make a point about a piece of art we’ve worked on.”

Terms & Conditions: A UK drill story is available to watch now on YouTube, youtube.com/user/GRIMEDAILYMEDIA

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