Latoya Reisner‘Arrive like you mean it’. How capitalism embraces UK Drill but has no interest in protecting rappers in court

Drill is driven by dark, heavy, anti-establishment 808s and 909s, locating it in opposition to the modern day Little Mix pop song. So, why would ASDA, one of the biggest supermarket chains in the UK, want to create a Drill song for their advertising campaign to target market to young children? asks Latoya Reisner.

Drill music as a new cultural phenomenon has been on the British map for almost eight years. With its unapologetic presence, it cemented itself within the British music industry drawing inspiration from the Chicago Drill music scene. The UK adopted the American sound but with a harsher, stripped back delivery, echoing elements of Grime and UK Black youth culture. Whilst the genre became an exciting new sound for many young Black people who embraced the genre’s outsider status, many political conversations emerged with government officials seeking to control and police the genre due to the state seeing the genre as being inextricably located within the crosshairs of knife crime and ‘gang’ murders.

Drill music has captured the British headline press ever since it began to emerge, with it being labelled as the ‘demonised rap genre’, serving to promote violence and the glamorisation of selling drugs. In mirror fashion to Grime, Drill embraces its roadman image and stigma, whilst at the same time empowering itself as unapologetic, cheeky, humorous and a lot of times disrespectful. However; in the eyes of the Metropolitan police, this genre of music is contributing to the current knife crime epidemic. The ‘gang-drill’ relationship becomes a sensitive subject due to the lives that have been lost, sparking off the exposure of institutional racism, government failure, scapegoating, and triggering political arguments amongst music industry professionals and the police.

Whilst this culture war has developed between music industry professionals and the state, Shylo Milwood, known by his artist name Russ Millions, became the first UK Drill artist to have a Drill song hit peak at Number 9 in the Top 10 UK singles chart in 2019. In April of the following year, Russ teamed up with North London’s Tion Wayne for his follow-up single ‘Keisha & Becky’ which later peaked at Number 7, and fast forward to 2021, the duo teamed up once more to release ‘Body’ which went to Number 1 in four countries and even became platinum in the UK. The growth of UK Drill within Britain and the internet has become unignorable, making the genre undeniably popular, and whilst popularity surrounds the genre despite its bad press, commercialisation and mainstream capitalism quickly runs to play its position.

In summer 2021, ASDA released its George at ASDA advertisement for its back-to-school campaign. The advert features a ‘gang’ of energetic young kids, rapping, acting cool and adopting the Drill bravado that many UK Drill artists perform within their music videos, resulting in the advert becoming a viral smash hit on Twitter, with many users across the nation raving about its creativity. The soundtrack also received radio play on BBC Radio 1. Impero Agency, which was selected by ASDA to produce the campaign, acknowledged that the advert needed to reflect what kids would be feeling when going back to school and that this needed to feel momentous. The creative director of Impero stated, ‘This sense of belonging and togetherness is something that’s plain to see in so many UK Drill and Grime videos. It was the perfect genre and visual style to celebrate this huge moment in a kid’s life.’

What becomes ironic around ASDA adopting Drill music, or as some would prefer to refer to it as ‘the Drill sound’, for a school campaign, is that this was done to entice adults and young children effectively because of Drill music’s popularity and because of the digital relationship drill music has established with its audience. But whilst this advert was embraced positively and praised for its creativity in tapping into a young and current market, the bleak and harsh reality of actual UK drill producers and artists who create this music for a living and are the reason for the genre’s popularity, are facing major legal battles, censorship attempts, and prosecution.

Does this co-sign from ASDA suggest that mainstream acceptance is now bestowed on the demonised genre? ASDA now joins a list of companies and brands which have utilised and embraced the style of current rap artists to promote their products.

Over the past 10 years, we’ve witnessed discriminatory practices such as Form 696 work in favour of the police to block progression of many Black artists due to their ingrained institutional racist bias, whereas if we fast forward to 2022, these same artists are being embraced by major international companies and brands to promote and support their product. We’ve witnessed this happen with Grime veteran Lethal Bizzle. His song ‘Pow’ was banned from radio stations and clubs across the country back in 2004 because it allegedly caused mayhem in public settings. Yet fast forward to 2019 and you may have heard KFC license Lethal Bizzle’s Grime track ‘I win’ featuring Skepta for their new hot wings campaign.

If more brands and companies are happy to sponsor and utilise rap artists for marketing purposes, then surely they should be supportive of aiding the young Black and Brown creatives who create and produce this music, including fighting against the discriminatory racism that they face. It’s about time these multi-million pound brands show up to defend rap artists, and arrive like they mean it. 

January 2022 

About the author

Latoya Reisner is a talent manager and producer for Manchester based creative agency Thirty Pound Gentleman. She worked as a Research Associate at the University of Manchester alongside Eithne Quinn and Kamila Rymajdo for the Prosecuting Rap project. Latoya has an MA in Criminology (Manchester Metropolitan University) and a BA in Sociology & Criminology (Salford University). She also worked for Manchester based music led YouTube channel Onewaytv, which helps develop artists’ and creative output and worked as a researcher on the documentary film Dangerous Associations (Dir. Colin Stone, 2020), which focuses on joint enterprise, criminal cases and race.