Calling Young Music Genres ‘Dead’ Is Problematic

Words: Yemi Abiade

“Drill is coming to the end of its day soon,” said Birmingham driller M1llionz in a recent Complex UK interview. “Drill is overpopulated now. Everyone’s starting to sound the same. I just think there’s too many people in one little pocket right now.” If we cast our minds back to just five years ago, UK drill wasn’t safe from a barrage of ridicule from every corner of the white establishment, criticised for its content and subject matter. It was a campaign so intense that former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick made the unprecedented move to ban UK drill videos from YouTube, widely seen as a targeted attack on freedom of speech. Drill weathered the storm and has even gone pop in the ensuing years, with Headie One, K-Trap, DigDat, Digga D, Unknown T, Central Cee and countless others scooping awards, top 10 chart placements and the love of fans worldwide.

So, to now reach a juncture where one of the most exciting names in the genre, M1llionz, is predicting its demise is almost a full circle moment for a sound that has been throwing punches to defend itself for years, while splintering into new realms and possibilities. It’s almost as if the ‘grime is dead’ merchants heard his comments and wanted to be tagged in, because that old debate is up again—not to mention ongoing online wars over the status of UK R&B. If you believe Twitter, UK Black music is practically non-existent. What a sad little life.

Opinions are entitled, of course, especially with a subject as increasingly subjective as music. But nuance and consideration must be applied when you make such a sweeping statement. The problem with calling a genre ‘dead’—a claim often made by online commentators with no stake in the mechanics of that genre—is that it’s often short-sighted, littered with reductionism and agendas. It also doesn’t make a great deal of sense. Conversely, when you make this statement, you’re doing the same thing you accuse those within said genre of doing: not progressing that sound. You invalidate it and all of the lengths taken to make it a legitimate musical movement that fuels the daily lives of artists and fans. You dismiss it because you see artists who made their name in that sound use their creative freedom to explore other genres, not considering all the personalities and lyrical styles that exist within it. Outside of being factually incorrect, it’s a lazy argument that is convenient because you may not like a particular pocket of the genre, or you can’t see its artists topping the charts.

This isn’t to say that M1llionz’s comments are invalid; as an observant artist, he has probably seen things that have influenced his opinion. As with any other genre, too much of the same formula can feel stagnant and repetitive. In M1llionz’s example, he earmarks rappers using the same flows as to why the genre is on its way out, but you could argue these rappers are doing what works to build their catalogue, which can lead to their own critical and commercial success. It may not enhance the full genre, but it enables artists a chance to earn a significant amount from their music via signing with labels, tours and other avenues. But then you think of artists such as Unknown T, Loski and M1llionz himself as examples of artists with their own lanes in the game and you start to see how divergent the scene really is.

Principally, UK drill has been through too much in its decade-long span—from pioneers such as 67 and Harlem Spartans to stars of today like NitoNB and Kidwild—for anyone to say it’s on its last legs. It is now a musical powerhouse thanks to a wide cast of characters like Russ Millions, Digga D and Central Cee, to name but a few. Some of the scene’s premier names, like Headie, Trapo and M1llionz, remain just that and though they may venture into new sounds (Headie’s derided collaboration 2020 GANG tape with electronic producer Fred Again.., for example), they are still drill to the core. When they return to the sound, it’s like they never left.

Producers such as Young Chencs, Nastylgia and even M1OnTheBeat are switching up the sonic palette, trading drill’s trademark 808s for pop samples and piano riffs. Thus, opening up the sound and signalling another chapter for its potential growth. Lest we forget our American cousins—Kanye West, Migos, Pop Smoke, Fivio Foreign, Ice Spice—picking up the sound for their own music. It’s no longer merely a hardcore underground sound; it has mainstream appeal and there’s an appetite for both the raw and the polished aspects. As we said in 2020, UK drill is adjusting.

Grime, meanwhile, can never die, as countless commentators and thinkpieces over the years have reminded us. It’s a shame that it has to be continually reiterated but such is life. For the haters in the back: grime bears too much weight and impact on the fabric of modern Black British music and culture. Musically, P Money, Jme, Manga Saint Hilaire, Cadell, Novelist, Capo Lee, Lioness and many more are still making incredible music and don't seem interested in stopping. Elsewhere, the sooner we get off this ‘UK R&B is dead’ bandwagon, the better. As with anything in life, there is likely room for improvement in these genres, ways in which we as consumers can help them become more visible so that their presence is undeniable. But they’re here, representing their genres with or without our support, for the love of the music.

People are very quick to suggest or flat-out announce that a genre is dead or dying, but they should be quicker to understand that, rather than dying, genres take on new forms of life. You just have to be willing to look hard enough.

Posted on March 16, 2023