“Bandoe”, “Booj”, “trapping” and “Kitty”. These are a few of the words drill rapper Ervine Kimpalu has been banned from using in his music for five years after being imprisoned on drug dealing charges. It has sparked renewed debate over the role that the genre plays in serious youth violence. So how is it that a person can be prevented from using certain words? And is there any point? RightsInfo explores.
‘Sinning And Winning’
Kimpalu, more widely known by his moniker Rico Racks, was sentenced to three years in prison at Blackfriars Crown Court on Friday (18 October) after he pleaded guilty to supplying Class A drugs and possessing criminal property at an earlier hearing.
Police searched properties across north London associated with Kimpalu and found £7,000 worth of drugs and thousands of pounds in cash.
The 20-year-old, whose song “Sinning and Winning” has more than 45,000 views on YouTube, was also handed a five-year criminal behaviour order – limiting a number of things he can do.
He cannot own articles related to drug dealing, nor own more than one mobile phone. He is also barred from referring to a number of words when rapping and posting videos online.
The words Kimpalu has been banned from using are all drug-related references, such as bandoe (a house used for the dealing and consumption of drugs), trapping (dealing drugs) and whipping (a term referring to driving or the preparation of drugs), as well as connect and shotting.
Drill is a sub-genre of hip-hop, with a focus on often violent and gritty lyrics about inner-city life. Arising in the South Side of Chicago during the early 2010s, it crossed the Atlantic and developed its own UK style. Lyrics often concern gang disputes, drugs, and violence.
Kimpalu’s case can be distinguished from previous cases involving drill rappers and criminal behaviour orders because this order is incredibly specific. It seeks to prevent the use of words, rather than to more generally control the production of music.
For example, another drill group, 1011, were made subject to a criminal behaviour order in June 2018. The order requires them to obtain police approval before releasing music, allow police to monitor unreleased material, and to obtain police approval before any live performances. It also restricts them from using lyrics the police believe could incite violence.
What is true of all these cases is that police continue to assert drill music has the potential to incite violence, particularly where rival gangs and postcodes are referenced. However drill artists contend that their music simply reflects the realities of their inner-city lives and experiences.
What About Free Speech?
Free speech groups have been highly critical of these orders as a means to silence voices, particularly, in the case of drill music, voices from black and low-income communities.
Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg, when commenting on a case involving drill group Skengdo x AM, expressed serious concerns that orders were going beyond preventing violence, and instead beginning to police ideas or opinions society might find disturbing or distressing, rather than effectively handle them.
She also raised concerns that little is being done to address the societal issues which are causing the behaviour that these orders seek to prevent.
But the freedom of expression is a “qualified right.” This means public authorities can sometimes take steps to curtail it when deemed necessary to prevent crime or disorder, among a number of other reasons.
‘Like Sticking Your Finger In A Dam’
Linguistics professor Tony Thorne, from King’s College London, has been studying criminal slang for more than 30 years and has been employed by police as a consultant to decipher drill lyrics and urban slang in criminal cases.
He told RightsInfo that attempting to ban drill lyrics is “like sticking your finger in a dam.”
“I can understand the motive of the police,” he said. “But there are hundreds and thousands of people composing rap and grime and drill and hip-hop lyrics all over the country and there are sadly hundreds and thousands involved in street activity.”
He spoke of being shocked by the “exceptional” violence and cruelty contained in drill lyrics, more so than its references to drug-dealing, which he has only seen paralleled in prison slang. “Much of it is about killing people and some of them are killing people,” he said.
But Prof Thorne added: “I think you have got to be careful about curtailing freedom of speech. Who is allowed to determine which words are impermissible and which are not?”
The professor, who has produced a dictionary of drill, said he felt that banning words has always proven “futile.”
He spoke of how the recorded origins of criminal slang in the UK can be traced from as far back as the swindlers of the 16th Century, through to the highwaymen of the 19th century.
He said: “They will always create and evolve secret codes for obvious reasons. They need to show that they are insiders. If you know the code that makes you a member – whether it is gangs or fan fiction.”