Kirsten Rawlins: Can music be blamed for crime - and how far should censorship be taken, if at all?

By Kirsten Rawlins | Voices | Published:

Kirsten Rawlins fills in for Peter Rhodes.

Musicians have long been blamed for inciting violence, either through their lyrics or the way the tone of their music makes listeners' feel.

And now online music videos are said to be fuelling the fire of gang violence in London.

But in a world where art - in any form - is intended to spark debate, provoke thought, conjure emotion and paint pictures, can its creators be blamed for the way in which an audience interprets it?

And, if music were to be shaped or restricted to prevent it from 'inciting' any forms of violence, at what point should a line be drawn between the industry being 'responsible' or simply censoring?

But with scores of people being affected by the violence in the capital, this is now a debate that needs to be had more than ever.

Police officers comb the cordoned area in Camberwell New Road, Southwark, South London

Hip-hop genre 'drill music' has been linked to the recent spate of killings in London, with gang violence supposedly being catalysed by YouTube videos of MCs taunting each other, which have reportedly spilled over into real-life violence.

Drive-by victim and rapper, Rhyhiem Barton, killed on May 5, is said to have uploaded a rap video to YouTube challenging a rival group just a month before he died.


The Mirror reported that Rhyhiem, who rapped under the name GB, is believed to have challenged a rival crew by asking 'how you gonna make it even'.

Rhyheim Barton

If this is the case, and gang members are using this social media platform to incite violence, rather than musicians simply creating music which is then negatively interpreted, is now the time to look into some form of censorship?

Surely if this music is goading crews to actively seek out revenge, something must be done - as their output goes beyond the realm of simply discussing social issues.


Or would banning the music simply fuel the fire and make these so-called artists more determined to get their material out?

It would perhaps at least mean it was less easily-accessible - but can anything ever really be banned when it comes to the internet?

From the days of Woodstock with the likes of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez spreading anti-war messages, to Eminem releasing songs describing killings and suicide, there's no doubt music can be incredibly powerful. And there's nothing new about the music industry being blamed for corrupting society.

Black Sabbath was linked to the Son of Sam serial killer in the late 70s, when police allegedly discovered the words to After Forever written on a wall in his apartment.

Black Sabbath

In the 80s, Ozzy Osbourne faced a lawsuit after one of his fans shot and killed himself while listening to Ozzy's song Suicide Solution, which was later dismissed.

Even going back as far as the late 50s, Elvis was blamed for corrupting the youth of the day with his gyrating hips; meaning he famously had to be filmed from the waist up.

But as far as negative messages go, having a song banned is possibly one of the best forms of publicity that an artist can get - any press is good press in most cases involving music, and people always desire forbidden fruit.

George Michael

Would Frankie Goes to Hollywood have had such a huge hit with Relax if it hadn't been banned - not to mention all the merchandising success. And would George Michael's I Want Your Sex have enjoyed such fame were it not for the initial censorship?

But can these 'gang' rappers be classed as artists, or are they simply thugs abusing the artform of music to incite violence? And can the same rules be applied to these 'musicians' as those who pen songs to describe their surroundings and provoke debate?

There is a difference between artists writing about the environment they live in, however ugly or dangerous, to encourage debate and those that simply want to provoke physical action - even knowing it will have potentially lethal consequences.

*Peter Rhodes is away

Kirsten Rawlins

By Kirsten Rawlins

Online Entertainment Editor for the Express & Star and Shropshire Star. E-mail me, or phone 01902 319368


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