The Drillosopher | Therapy in the Trap

Roadworks is a music education charity that revitalizes the teaching of social sciences by looking at them through the lens of drill music. Review of episode two below.

May 21, 2020 Abubakar Finiin

Drillosophy returned this week with its second offering ‘Therapy In The Trap’, which explores the concept of lyric writing and storytelling as catharsis. The episode was released in-line with mental health awareness week.    

UK rap was the soundtrack of my secondary school days. Although I never had aspirations of becoming a rapper, lyric writing was one of the defining pastimes of my days at school. During science lessons I would turn to the back of my book and scribble down lyrics that I had no intention of ever performing. I would do the same in detentions.  

The playground however was reminiscent of the ‘Lord of the Mics’ basement. There would be large groups of students, huddled together in a ring, leaning forwards in anticipation, as two students went back and forth in a light-hearted rap battle. Whenever someone would deliver a killer punchline the crowd would disperse as students frantically ran around screaming with hands on heads.  

Sure, the rap battles were fun and exciting, but it was reflective lyrics writing that I found to be truly therapeutic. And this is the central teaching of the second Drillosophy episode – writing can be cathartic.  

The episode opens with Ciaran recalling an interview he did with Radio 1 DJ Kenny Allstar. In it, Kenny sees himself as a therapist and extends the metaphor by likening the recording booth to a counselling room. Then, Reveal touches on how music has allowed him to revisit difficult moments in his life through lyrics writing. 

The music looked at in the episode is an ensemble of cinematic masterpieces, both from the UK and stateside. Ambush makes a guest appearance to discuss his track ‘Eastenders’ which explores themes of jealousy and love. Meanwhile, Reveal dissects that bar “My lil homie died and I ain’t drop a tear,” from Pop Smoke’s ‘PTSD’. As Reveal mentions, Pop Smoke is not oblivious to the death of his ‘lil homie’, but has instead become desensitized to trauma and loss.  

Reveal is very honest and sincere in this episode, as he revisits his own experiences of PTSD. It is incredibly refreshing to see given the taboo of talking about mental health amongst young men because of its perceived incompatibility with ideas of traditional masculinity.  

And of course, the concept of Drillosophy wouldn’t work without some philosophy. In this episode, Ciaran references Plato’s Republic, in which Plato argues that arts and performance evokes emotion that could lead to people acting irrationally. This idea is clearly flawed but still relevant. Take the moral panic surrounding drill for example. There is a constant discourse that youngsters are influenced by certain lifestyles depicted in drill music. There is rarely any insight or interest into exploring why the realities expressed by drill artists is so concerning. If he was alive today, Plato probably would’ve been one of those ignorant commentators calling for the banning of drill. Thankfully, the same cannot be said for his student Aristotle. 

As outlined in his work The Poetics, Aristotle’s concept of catharsis advocated that storytelling was a means of purgation.  Hence, lyric writing can be utilised as a means of revisiting difficult situations and addressing them holistically.   

‘Home’ by Knucks and ‘My Story’ by Krept and Konan are tracks that exemplify how Aristotelian storytelling can be therapeutic. In ‘Home’ Knucks reflects on an altercation at a party that led to an eventual stabbing. He is open about how at the time his pride quickly mutated into fear and then regret. In ‘My Story’ Konan has an emotional verse in which he accounts the death of his stepfather. Both of these songs are methods of cathartic release, and epitomise Aristotle’s theory of purgation.  

‘Mum tells me open up more but that’s what the bros are for,’ is a lyric from Home that stood out for me. I didn’t feel like I could turn to my teachers or my parents to talk about issues such as stop and search, so I turned to my friends- shout out the mandem. However, it wasn’t until I sat down and wrote about my experiences that I could properly reflect on my feelings.  

In the episode Ciaran says that his journalism work helped him come to terms with his own reality. This is something I can definitely relate to. Through writing, I could contemplate on my experiences of race, class, criminality and social perception. And it was purging, but it was also enlightening.  

It made me recognise that the psychological effects of targeted policing were always overlooked. I also realised that social media made me somewhat desensitized to death- I would scroll through Snapchat eulogies without much thought. In short, there was not much discussion around mental health. But there should’ve been. And in an age of social media and political turbulence, it has never been more important for Gen Z to be transparent about mental health. 

It’s good to see Drillosophy tailoring their progamme to encourage more honest conversation regarding mental health. It is especially relevant during lockdown where tough home circumstances and feelings of solitude can consume young people.  

As ever, the interweaving of classic philosophical concepts and modern UK music is perfect in enlivening education. Franklyn Addo, a youth worker, rapper and journalist from Hackney, closes the episode with a short rap verse starting with the fitting lyric ‘With me it’s never just some lyrics on a beat,’.