67's LD on the state of UK drill music
At the forefront of an evolving drill scene, LD muses on the public policing of the genre and predicts its future.
Photography Tristan Bejawn
Something about the quiet network of housing blocks at the top of South London’s Brixton Hill makes it feel like a sanctuary. It is, in fact, amongst these roads, gardens and paths that UK drill music was first tried-and-tested as a marketable outlet of rebellious expression, before it spread like wildfire across the city and beyond. The Bronx is to hip-hop, as Bow E3 is to grime, as Brixton Hill is to UK drill.
I wait, looking up at the redbrick buildings, as a cawing crow flies ahead. The video for 67’s 2015 anthem Take It There comes to mind, because its minimal, house-proud imagery is all around me; I can hear the rumbling bass and hypnotic church bells of veteran producer Carns Hill’s instrumental marching in my mind’s ear.
When my host for the afternoon arrives, we sit on a bench. Still humming the same song, I ask him about recording its booming call-to-arms of a chorus. “Take It There? I wanted to jump on that, but the other verses went so hard! So I freestyled the chorus in one, maybe two takes. Them times, everyone was just waking up to 67,” he says. Going back further, I pose 2014’s Live Corn as another formative Brixton drill song. “We were doing this from early… but we weren’t calling it drill. We were just making music,” he continues, reminiscing on a time of raw, undefinable creativity.
With his mask off, the person I am talking to is Scribz: the same man who appeared on BBC Newsnight earlier this summer explaining UK drill to the discerning masses across the country. When his mask is on, however, like in countless videos — Edgware Road, Most Wanted, WAPS, Let’s Lurk — and during interviews like his sit-down with spoken-word commentator George The Poet, he is LD: gatekeeper of UK drill’s cryptic universe. “The mask is a brand, a symbol. It’s how you know man’s still active” he says.
It is impossible to frame 67’s success as a pioneering outfit in London music without paying attention to LD’s towering individuality. At 26, he is the eldest MC in the drill scene (“bare man wanna rap drill, better call me dad” he spits on Detention). Despite the saturated pool of competitors he faces, he has the most distinctive voice and developed, narrative-focused lyrics, and probably appears in a higher number of acclaimed drill videos than any other artist. I ask what that feels like.
"It’s like these labels are taking kids from Brixton recreation centre swimming pool and throwing them into the sea, without showing them how to swim, because they know they can make quick money. That won’t happen to man."
“Obviously it’s a good feeling. But when you know you should be further, it’s jarring,” he says, frankly, outlining his high standards and keenness to represent his collective, not his solo, identity. “A lot of people have slept on 67. Not the fans, they do their part. I mean powerful people in business and record labels. Some of this music being made isn’t drill, it’s Teletubby music. The game is healthy right now, but it’s confused. Everyone’s eating, people are making money and becoming successful, but successful for what? It’s like these labels are taking kids from Brixton recreation centre swimming pool and throwing them into the sea, without showing them how to swim, because they know they can make quick money. That won’t happen to man,” he says, shaking his head, his hair swaying from side-to-side.
This summer, not long after 67’s project The 6 dropped, LD released his first solo project, The Masked One, which features video releases PR (“I don’t wanna chat, talk to my PR”) and Stepped In with Dizzee Rascal. I suggest that in its diversity of sounds, including choruses from Tiggs Da Author and even a catchy G-Unit sample, the mixtape might be taken as a blueprint for the state of UK drill; its changing character and accessible reach. “The Masked One is an intro to me as a person. When you mature you learn to tell your story. I’m making proper music now,” he says.
At the end of 2017, Scribz completed a short stint in prison, which at the time was feared to become a potential setback in his musical trajectory. Scribz himself doesn’t see it like that. “I needed it. It let me just take a step back from life and pree how I wanted to move forward. Before that, I had no plan, I was moving too fast, but in prison I listened to radio everyday. I studied the industry, what got plays, what didn’t. I’ve always said this: you take what you want from prison, and I figured out what I needed to do next” he explains.
More recently, in the spring of 2018, the British mainstream media suddenly zoomed-in on the otherwise ignored drill world that has been evolving in isolation for years. In broadly detached speculation, seeking easy answers in moral panic, columnists, politicians and senior police posed the music as a sole instigator of youth violence and knife crime.
Understandably, most MCs and producers refused to comment. In August, however, 67 agreed to appear in an extended segment about their lives and careers on BBC Newsnight, perhaps the most institutionalised platform in British television news. The production team at the BBC rang me for advice about the piece prior to filming it. I stressed the importance of speaking to artists about their lives outside of any focus on violence or negativity. It was the first time I felt my journalism about the moral panic surrounding drill was having any impact on higher forces. I mention this to Scribz, and ask why he agreed to do it.
“We never knew what the outcome would be. But someone big enough needed to bring out the message on a strong platform. I’m happy 67 went up there because otherwise it would have been some next idiot. I think it showed realness and positivity. We took the BBC around our area, went to the shop to buy juice, made them feel comfortable, we introduced them to Dimzy’s daughter. It was important for someone big enough to do it because we are pioneers, and if you’re shutting down drill, you’re shutting down our ting,” he replies triumphantly.
As we finish the interview, the other members of 67 walk over and join us, each shaking my hand and introducing themselves. “I’m with the same people I was playing in the sand with as a child,” LD says, looking across at his friends, having now put on his mask for the photo shoot.
I ask how he would describe his current position in UK music. “What’s that chess piece? Not the king or queen, the ones just below them. Anyway, I’m like a young king,” he replies, squinting at the floor, concentrating on the delivery of his metaphor. “I’m waiting to make my next move. I know what I’m capable of and when I’m ready to strike I’m gonna strike properly. Right now I’m just loading.”
Ciaran Thapar is a youth worker and writer based in south London