AM x Skengdo Arrested and the Censorship of Music

Shanet Mehari

By Shanet Mehari

Shanet Mehari

23 Feb 2019

“So the fact that people are being allowed to live in it and experience it, that’s not a problem. However, making it known — saying it in music – that’s a problem.”

AM – Channel 4 News Interview

Drill rappers AM and Skengdo have long been successful pioneers on the London Drill Scene. Nevertheless, only 2 weeks into the new year, they were arrested by Metropolitan police and given a suspended sentence of nine months in prison for breaching a gang injunction. Was this associated with violence? Drugs? No. The pair’s breach was a matter of performing “Attempted 1.0” — a banned song — at a concert in London in August 2018.

According to Index on Censorship this is the very first time in British legal history that an artist has been charged for performing a song. Their sentence is critical for current and incoming artist who intend to make and perform music that challenges the present state of affairs in Britain because it can be used as ‘precedent’. ‘Legal precedent’ is a way that lawyers can refer back to the outcome of old cases i.e. “If A.M and Skengdo were give a suspended sentence of nine months in prison then so should this artist for the things they say in their songs.”

Public backlash to music is not new. “The Beatles’” music was banned in the Eastern Bloc in the 60’s, punk rock’s group “The Sex Pistols” song “God Save the Queen” was banned from broadcast by the BBC in 1977 for being anti-royalist and heavy metal band “Marilyn Manson” have long provoked backlash for their music. More specifically in the case of Rap/Hip-Hop, N.W.A were arrested in 1989 for performing their banned hit, “F*** the police”. In 1990, Miami’s 2 Live Crew were arrested for performing a banned song and their album “As Nasty As They Wanna Be” was banned in Broward County for being obscene. Interestingly, member Uncle Luke appealed the ruling up until supreme court were he won by arguing for the right to free speech — this overturned previous decisions.

Luther Campbell A.K.A “Uncle Luke” is arrested for performing “obscene” songs in Broward county before overturning the charges at Supreme Court in 1992.

In all cases of music that faces backlash, artists argue that they are simply rapping about their experience and not creating them. Artists like Giggs, who is now widely considered a Godfather of the London scene, remains honest in his music – you can read more about him here

Nevertheless, much of the backlash towards drill implies that it incites violence and criminal gang culture among youth. To this, AM said to Channel 4 news following the sentence that, “One of the things I struggled with … was, I leave my house and everyone on the estate, we see what’s going on here and we know, cool – there’s a problem … Nobody cares … So the fact that people are being allowed to live in it and experience it, that’s not a problem. However, making it known — saying it in music – that’s a problem.” Further to this he added, “They’re not gonna arrest me or Skengdo for anything violent,” AM said. “We’re two adults and we have a career and we’re pursuing our career.” Their response is interesting given that it begs the question of how an artist can be incorrectly labelled because of associations with their genre — Skengdo and AM are legal workers in Britain and this is something that drill critiques overlook.

Many have commended Drill for giving youth an avenue to express themselves and develop their careers. Granted, its likely that an individual is more likely to be interested in content they can relate to but some question whether there are other aspects of their identity they could express and channel? Maybe, maybe not. Regardless, drill is what is being expressed, drill is what the youth are talking about.

Its very rarely that you get to choose where and what music emerges and it many cases, that unpredictability is why people love music. Not long ago the London Drill scene didn’t exist — and now, we write articles about it and talk about it on the news alongside pressing issues like youth violence and criminal gang activity. Although its a shame that successful artists face arrest and potential prison time for this, historically, incidence like this draw attention to the issues faced by groups in a similar way that activists do. Although AM x Skengdo may not have been successful in court like Uncle Luke, but they will be remembered in Drill history for this very story.

So the question follows, should music be expressive and honest? Or is it a tool that should be used to steer youth in “the right direction?” And who decides this direction or how to get there?