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Is drill music chronicling violence or exploiting it?

“Elected officials like Mayor Eric Adams in New York have described drill music as a kind of devilish bargain, where music industry executives and social media companies accelerate and commodify gang violence for profit,” said Brandon Terry, the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences and co-director of the new Institute on Policing, Incarceration & Public Safety at the Hutchins Center.

One problem with confronting the issues surrounding drill music, panelist Saida Grundy said, is the risk of feeding the idea that Black culture is more destructive than other cultures. At the same time, the assistant professor of sociology and African American and Black diaspora studies at Boston University noted that examination of drill cannot ignore the individuals affected by the genre.

Forrest Stuart, professor of sociology at Stanford, cautioned that villainizing drill music gives the carceral system ammunition against young Black men. The MacArthur Fellow’s current research finds that some prosecutors and police are using defendants’ involvement with drill music, including sharing lyrics on social media or “flashing around a replica gun on a YouTube video that was made five years prior,” to bump up charges.

Stuart’s past research on drill in Chicago’s South Side also revealed how young people are using drill to map out which areas of their neighborhoods are safe, and which are not. “By hearing who’s being shouted out negatively and who is being shouted out positively, they can quickly understand whose neighborhood they’re in and who they’re feuding with,” the urban ethnographer explained.

“The conversation was definitely a reflection of how nuanced the topic is,” said Benjamin Alexander ’23. “I definitely reflect on my role as a student and a consumer. What does it look like to think about the extent to which I’m complicit and contributing to some of the issues of violence that we see? What exactly does my roll look like? And what approach toward a solution do I take?”

For Dee-1, the answer to that question is simple. “As a consumer, you have the choice to literally support whatever it is that you would like to see more of,” he said. “If you truly want to see your conditions change, as an artist you have a choice to say, ‘I might have to sacrifice some popularity or some paper for the sake of putting out content that is actually progressive and conducive to a better world around us.’”

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