Met monitoring song lyrics of rap artist it tried to censor on Instagram

<span>Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer</span>
Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

Since being released from prison on licence last October, drill artist Chinx (OS), from the Regent’s Park Estate in north-west London, has written 17 music tracks.

Each one could have sent the 24-year-old, desperate not to fall back into his past life after serving four years of an eight-year sentence for possession of a firearm with intent to harm, back to jail.

This week, the oversight board at Meta, the owner of Instagram, overruled a decision by the social media platform, made in January on the request of the Met police, to delete one of Chinx’s tracks, Secrets not Safe, from the site. His own Instagram account was also deleted.

Related: Instagram told to reinstate music video removed at request of Met police

In a development that hit the headlines, the board found that Scotland Yard’s claim to Instagram that the track could lead to “retaliatory violence” was not founded, adding that basic principles of free speech, equality and transparency had been breached in allowing a police operation to censor a musician in secret.

But Chinx, who has asked for his real name not to be used, says the story does not stop there. “They’ve given me new licence conditions which are to notify the police and probation service within 24 hours of any release, yeah, and to also have lyrics attached to that,” the young musician says, speaking from an estate in St John’s Wood, north London. “There’s no approval phase. So, it’s not like I send in my lyrics and they say yeah, and you can release this. It is just you have to let us know, deliver the tunes out and if you mess up, you mess up.”

He goes on: “A second condition is to not incite or encourage what is reasonably seen as inciting violence around gang hostility. Quite broad. It’s not really fair. ‘Reasonably seen’ is whatever the police see as a problem.”

A misstep could lead to four more years in jail.

The case highlights the unprecedented approach taken by the state to drill, a form of rap music that originated from the streets of Chicago, and is notable for its focus on violence and its dark provocative lyrics, fast beats and haunting melodies.

In 2019, drill rappers Skengdo and AM were given suspended prison sentences for performing a song in a particular postcode and containing certain lyrics.

As part of its investigation into the removal of the track, Meta’s oversight board found that the Met had filed 286 requests to take down or review posts about drill music in the 12 months from June 2021, and that 255 of those had resulted in the removal of content.

The police contend that, rather than over-policing a form of music enjoyed predominantly by young black men, they are trying to keep them safe.

Chinx (OS) by the Regents Park Estate.
Chinx (OS) by the Regents Park Estate. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

Chinx, while recognising the excesses of some, says he is just trying to turn his life around and this music, reflecting on the life he knows, offers him a chance.

Chinx, nicknamed after his resemblance to a US drill artist of the same name, had 12 convictions to his name before being arrested for possession of a Walther P38 pistol in 2017. He spent four years in seven prisons, including HMPs Bellmarsh and Wormwood Scrubs.

He performs with his face covered, and maintains anonymity as he seeks to keep his music and family life separate. But he wants, he says, to stay away from the lifestyle he once had on north London’s Regent Park Estate. It is why he is churning out his music despite the perilous restrictions encircling him.

“Every moment counts,” he says. “That’s my mindset. I’ve been behind so I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do three or four times harder.”

His work, he says, is entertainment, no matter the violence. The track that was deleted by Instagram was largely fiction. His other works, including those due to appear on a forthcoming album out next February, reflect on his life in jail. How, he asks, is the celebration of violence in Hollywood movies any different to his own?

“To me, it is similar to a James Bond film,” he says. “James Bond is an MI5 officer who does contract killings. Yeah. So I mean, that’s his job as a profession when you make a whole movie out of it and make it seem like it’s cool to go around killing. All you can control is what you can control – me as an individual. I can’t control what someone else is going to do based on my lyrics.”