We catch up with rapper and London mayoral candidate Drillminister about politics, climate change and the power of speaking up
“Since ’10 the air’s been illegal. And Boris was mayor, but didn’t put warning signs up telling the people. 2015 the United Kingdom Supreme Court said fuck this. And ruled that immediate action had to be made at risk to the public. Little Ella Kissi-Debrah, first victim of the air, that’s sadness. And six years later the government still can’t solve this thing? That’s madness.”
These are the lyrics of Choke, a track by Drillminister. The anonymous London rapper makes whip-smart tunes about problems like Westminster’s violent political rhetoric or the looming specter of a No Deal Brexit. His clear-eyed approach has landed him appearances on TV shows like Newsnight, Good Morning Britain and Victoria Derbyshire, and he’s running for mayor in the City Hall elections which have been postponed due to Coronavirus. Back before the outbreak put a stop to mass gatherings, we caught up with him at the We Make Tomorrow conference, organised by music and sustainability charity Julie’s Bicycle, to talk politics and pollution.
Change Incorporated: First thing’s first. How is your campaign for Mayor going?
Drillminister: At the moment it's picking up momentum. I've concentrated on representing the underclass and underprivileged voice in places and spaces that we haven't been seen before. For instance tomorrow I'm going to be on with Holly Willoughby and Philip Schofield on ITV, to highlight my background and where I'm from.
CI: How has the support been, have people been inspired by it?
DM: Yeah massive. Obviously it’s something a lot of people are scared to do. Who the hell is gonna wake up in the morning and say 'I'm going to run for London Mayor'? It doesn't happen. But I've chosen to do it. I got a message yesterday from a little boy who said 'Drilly, just the way you talk it's inspiring me to try to talk back to these bullies at school'. He's been getting bullied and he doesn't want to speak up. Obviously, I'm not inspiring him to go out there and fight back and get himself hurt and what not. I'm trying to say, ‘share your pain of what you're going for and speak out like I'm speaking out. Speak out whether it be to teachers, to whoever, to let people know this is what you're going through, for it to stop.’
So if I don't start talking up on this climate thing, the hood is never gonna know that this is going on
CI: When did the environment become a key issue?
DM: The environment was always a key issue. When I heard about little Ella Kissi-Debrah [a nine-year old girl who died of an asthma attack which may have been caused by air pollution], I was like ‘hold on, there are children dying from this pollution thing in London, one of the most advanced cities in the Western world, financial capital of half the world. How are we doing this?’
Then I said ‘wait a minute, and she's from a working class background, what's going on here?’ I started asking who's in control of these things and why has this been allowed to happen. How did it even get to this? When you start delving deeper you realise all the little back-handed deals that are going on in City Hall and in Parliament. You start to realise, ‘hold on, these man are looking out for themselves’. So if I don't start talking up on this climate thing, the hood is never gonna know that this is going on. I feel myself to be the news anchor for the hood. I think I was the first rapper in the world to make an actual, legitimate climate song. That's what John Snow from Channel 4 told me, that they’ve done the research and I’m the first rapper in the world to make a credible climate song.
CI: A lot of artists talk about politics in a more abstract way but not about, say, the Northern Ireland backstop. Why do you think getting into the technical aspects is important?
The news anchor thing. There's a film I watched and it taught me a lot called The Bank Job. It's got Jason Statham in it, it's a mad film. In the film something's happened nationally which is massive, a real life thing that happened. And they're reenacting what Mi5 actually did. They say ‘go to the media outlets and [issue a D-notice, or government gagging order to] delist this news’. I've never heard this term, delist. I went and researched it.
Things have been delisted to protect the public from what they believe the public's not ready to digest. Then I realised, it's my job to un-delist things. Which is why you're gonna hear Political Drillin and you're gonna hear an NI Backstop, because I've got brothers and sisters in Northern Ireland too, I've got fans in Northern Ireland too. They're affected by all of these things going on.
CI: Do you think it's important that you keep your balaclava on to show that you don't have to take it off to be trusted?
DM: I'm not obeying by the ethics of society and because of that I'm rubbing people up the wrong way. But they've had politicians that have had their faces exposed, what have they done for anybody? Politicians are normal human beings just like everybody else. People have got addictions, they've got addictions, people have got sex addictions, they’ve got sex addictions, people have got little secrets they don't want to let out, they've got little secrets they don't want to let out. But politicians have to do the ‘perfect person’ thing, and because of that it interferes with their message. If I take that away from you, you don't have me to concentrate on. If I just leave you with my message then you're left with the morals and ethics of what my policies are and what I'm actually saying. People focus on little things that aren’t important, not the politics. It's about the message and the policies.
CI: You say you’re not abiding by established ethics of what's expected. Do you think that's what's needed for people to come out and fight against the climate crisis?
DM: One hundred percent. I think the reasons why people are going to these extremes to get their point across is because the normal way ain't working. And this isn't me condoning people to do anything I'm just saying the reality of what it is. This is what the little man is doing, the little man that's just trying to provide for his family, who's trying to figure out ‘why is there a big construction of some sort across the road from my son's primary school and infecting all of my kids with bad lungs, and giving all the kids asthma before their time? Why is all this happening? Why is the council allowing it? Why is the London mayor's office of City Hall allowing it?’ These are the questions people are asking and they're not getting the answers. You can't blame people for being angry. You can't blame people for saying enough is enough and no one's listening because profit is above people. And because profit is above people, this is why these extremes are happening.
CI: What's your advice to someone who wants to get involved, to speak up, and not go with the status quo?
DM: The first thing that person's got to do is find your tribe. Find your tribe of what you feel you belong to and the reason that you want to speak out. Once you find your tribe you find like-minded people that can help you to get your voice out there. Try to find your own voice within that tribe and have your own reason. Don't speak like the next man or copy the next man, try to find your own voice and then speak out for your own injustices, or just your own point of view of the world. And don't be ashamed to say that uncomfortable truth that people don't want to hear.
Interview has been edited for brevity
Photo credit: Gleb Kosorukov