Eithne Quinn (University of Manchester, UK)


This paper will consider several joint enterprise criminal cases in London in which drill music composed by defendants has been relied on as evidence against them. London drill is slower than grime, with a tumbling flow, typically recounting blustering tales of fast lifestyles, precarity, violence, and drug selling. It emerged in the mid-2010s, along with deepening austerity in Britain. When a young person falls under suspicion of a crime, police increasingly look for rap verse, especially verse in the drill subgenre, to rely on as incriminating evidence. The prosecution will then try to use the rap verse as evidence, by turns, of confession, motive, bad character, and gang association. In joint enterprise and conspiracy cases, rap lyrics and videos can help create a dangerous narrative that draws groups of young defendants together in loose yet criminalizing ways. It can be very effective for the prosecution. Judge and juries tend to have limited skills in decoding rap lyrics–which, though they repeatedly claim to be ‘keeping it real’ are heavily reliant on fantasy and formula.

I have acted as a defence expert in a number of London criminal cases in which the Crown has sought to admit drill rap lyrics and videos as evidence against defendants. I will discuss some of these cases to build a critique of the racist use of music as criminal evidence, focusing on controversial joint enterprise cases.