Rapper Guvna B Shares Exclusive Extract From His Book ‘Unspoken’

“Man Up!” “Be a man!” “A man’s man.”

We are constantly surrounded by these seemingly harmless little epithets. But, as British rapper Guvna B tells us in his new book, Unspoken: Toxic Masculinity And How I Faced The Man Within The Man, this is exactly the sort of language that has ingrained toxic masculinity in us, often on a subconscious level. We may not even mean to perpetuate these ideas, but these little stock phrases have a habit of just slipping out without us noticing.

“My younger self would tell me to ‘man up,’” he says, but this new book is the work of someone who’s undergone immense personal growth. Much of that growth, we learn, comes from the passing of his father in 2017. Speaking on the loss, he says: “I realised I didn’t deal with it very well and it unearthed a lot of memories that I’d buried along with the toxic masculinity I was carrying.”

To celebrate the book’s release on Harper Inspire, Guvna B has shared an exclusive extract with us from Chapter 11: Small Steps. Tying his treatise on hyper-masculinity to the subject of knife crime, here Guv looks at how genres like grime and drill have been demonised and used as an easy explainer to avoid having to dig into deeper issues like the government’s neglect of local funding and resources.

Dig in below.

In the current epidemic of youth violence, knife crime is up 70 per cent, with 1,012 knife-related hospital admissions for 10–19 year olds recorded in 2019, compared to 656 in 2012/13 (NHS England). Many people think the problem is only in London, but that is not the case; the problem is countrywide, with a 47.5 per cent increase in knife-related offences in 34 counties of England and Wales since 2010, versus an 11 per cent increase in London.

In 2017–18, Kent recorded the highest rise, with a 152 per cent increase. Along with London and Kent, Nottingham, Blackpool, Manchester, Slough, and Liverpool are now classed as some of the most dangerous places to live when it comes to youth violence (House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, 18 July 2019).

What’s going wrong? The answer depends on who you ask. Those looking to divert the blame away from themselves will point the finger at the disempowered, misunderstood, misrepresented; at those attempting to whittle their way out of the life they have been assigned; namely, the perceived root of evil – drill and grime music artists.

Ask the police, the media, or authority figures at the top and they will say that its drill and grime which are 100 per cent responsible for the recent increases in youth violence.

I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen – in fact, I have proof that it does on very rare occasions. In the sixth form, I was sitting in English next to my best mate, Nick Brewer, when he got word that one of his close friends had been shot and killed. The reason for the shooting? He had affiliated himself with an upcoming grime star, who had released a record insulting the perpetrator’s half-brother.

A clear-cut case: music = murder.

And there are other instances where you hear about postcode wars being played out through the lyrics of drill music, and murders occurring as a result. There are people out there making money at the cost of someone else’s pain. I know rappers, who were relatively unknown, who have been propelled to fame overnight by adding in a few lyrics of ‘raw’ and ‘real’ experiences of life at street level. If a particular music track is popular, it is going to get played all over the radio. Often the radio station doesn’t know what the lyrics they are playing mean, or the damage they can do.

So, yeah, it does happen that certain tracks incite violence and have repercussions, but these only represent a handful of people, although they give the whole urban music scene a bad name.

At the end of the day, anyone blaming music as the sole reason for these problems is failing to address their real root causes. It’s cowardly.

Drill and grime music are the forms artists take to express the story of their lives as they see them, that is why there is a focus on drugs, money, status, tit-for-tat killings, and violence, as that is often their reality.

They could write positive lyrics focusing on hope, peace, and love, but when young people are lost, lack role models, and are looking for guidance to make sense of their world, they are more than likely to tune into the music that feeds into the negativity that exists in their own lives.

Those lacking power kick back through music. If their reality included secure and happy home lives, bountiful opportunities, and money and respect then that would be reflected in what they chose to put out. The negative themes in drill and grime aren’t the cause of violent youth crime, but the by-product of the burning village.

Improve the outlook and the life chances of kids from the top down, give them something to hope for and believe in, keep them safe, and the message coming out will improve.

If we focus only on the negative aspects of drill and grime, we will fail to see the positivity it brings. Music of any kind creates opportunity where there may be no other possibilities, and enables expressive communication where there may be no other outlet. For many young people, seeing artists who look like them succeed in the music world spurs them on to be creative themselves. It shows them a way out. A large number of black music artists come from humble beginnings, and often grew up in the same neighbourhoods as the people who listen to their music – and they make it big, which offers young people hope.

When I was growing up there were a whole load of artists that I used to listen to, from all parts of the world, but the one that had the most direct influence on kick-starting me on my journey was Kano, because Kano grew up only fifteen minutes from my house, so had had the same kind of upbringing as me. But he’d made it onto MTV Base and, at the time, had just signed a major record deal.

That was huge for me. I remember I memorized all the lyrics to ‘Ps and Qs’, as a way of learning about the way lyrics are formed, and this was the launchpad for me to start writing on my own.

I often think it would make a big difference if those in authority tuned into drill and grime and got a sense of what life is like at street level. The lyrics reflect the mood, the difficulties, the frustrations, the lack of outlook, and aspirations. If those with the power to enact change took the time to listen, I reckon they could gain a lot of insight into the concerns young people have. Also, I’m not sure if they realize it, but many of their own kids are well and truly immersed in those genres of music, so it’s funny when they’re quick to condemn what their own kids are championing. Perhaps they don’t mind as they can make sure their own kids aren’t living the life – they’re just taking musical enjoyment from other people’s reality.

The book is out now.

Posted on March 29, 2021