- Seeking Sir
- ‘Sir’ is a state school English teacher in a big city in the UK. Prior to this he worked with children with a variety of Special Educational Needs, particularly those with behavioural and social problems. His teaching has been rated as ´Outstanding´ by Ofsted which means he once did a great job for 50 minutes. Save for a light dusting of fiction in order to protect the innocent (and indeed the guilty) anything recounted here is absolutely true. Otherwise, there will be some exciting political debate where everything Sir thinks is also absolutely true. Twitter: @seekingsir
19 July 2010
LIFE AND LYRICS Part 1: A GCSE IN WEAPONRY
If you have heard of a ‘Giggs’ it is probably Manchester United’s long-serving Welshman, Ryan. South of the river in our nation’s capital however, he has a namesake who, in a very different field of play, is rapidly gaining significant fame of his own. He doesn’t really use his real name, he is just ‘Giggs’, an abbreviation of ‘Giggles’, his childhood nickname. And in terms of the youth culture of Britain, he is quite probably the most influential man you have never heard of.
Giggs is the current ‘man of the moment’ in underground rap circles and is creeping steadily towards mainstream success. Giggs hails, as he often reminds his listeners, from 'Pecknarm'. Pecknarm is actually Peckham, erstwhile home of Delboy and Rodders and the ill-fated ‘Trotters’ Trading Company’. The contemporary youth, with a clever pun on Vietnam, have rechristened the area in order to reflect its high levels of gang-based violence. Often, Peckham is simply referred to as ‘Narm’ in accordance with the US veterans’ abbreviation made famous in an abundance of cult war films (and by ex-US serviceman Principal Skinner of The Simpsons).
Giggs, also known as Hollowman, does precious little to discourage the view that Pecknarm can be a decidedly unfriendly place. Trident, the Metropolitan Police’s specialist unit for dealing with gun crime in London’s black communities, recently attempted – and failed – to have his latest release banned from sale. Whilst I am a staunch defender of free speech, it is not difficult to see why Trident felt moved to take such drastic action given the following lyrical excerpt from ‘Walk In the Park’, Giggs’ most popular track to date (most HMV record stores sold out within 2 days):
Now I'm Hollowman wit sum heavy Dior jeans,
Bitch niggas lookin for glory,
Wanna beef me so they can tell u a story,
It will get bloody and it will get gory,
Clapped in the neck like Amanda In Saw 3,
Yea I got my suttin deh pon me,
So much straps I'll have a weaponry orgy
Feds try nick me for a murder but it cudda been the man that had the weapon before me…
For those a little bewildered:
Now I’m Hollowman and I’m wearing very stylish Dior jeans,
Worthless rivals – mostly young black men - are looking for glory,
They want to have a dispute with me so they can brag about it,
It will get bloody and it will get gory,
[Someone will be] shot in the neck like Amanda in Saw 3 (Saw 3 is a popular horror film)
Yes, I have something [my gun] with me,
I have so many guns I’ll have a weaponry orgy,
The police tried to arrest me for a murder but it could’ve been the man that had the weapon before me…
Later, he references ‘his PYGs’, members of The Pecknarm Young Gunners, a street gang in which, if his lyrics are to be believed, Giggs wields significant influence. Despite voicing frustration that Operation Trident seem to have him under constant tabs, in the same song he admits that he talks ‘…about the handgun a lot’ before affirming in the next line that his lyrics are not empty bravado: ‘But that one Hollowman handles a lot’. Certainly, his gun credentials stack up. In 2003 he was sentenced to two years in prison for possessing firearms without a licence.
The lack of understanding regarding the influence music wields over youth culture and, by extension, the basic behaviours of youths on the street, is at best limited, at worst dangerously inadequate. Sacha Baron Cohen, in the guise of the inimitable ‘Ali G’, once interviewed James Ferman, former director of the British Board of Film Classification. Throughout the interview, Cohen was at pains to use as much inflammatory and sordid slang as he possibly could which drew nothing but bland ignorance from his interviewee. Aside from the comedic result of the exchange, its far more profound (if perhaps not intended) consequence was to highlight the linguistic and cultural chasm that exists between the powers-that-be and a worryingly large number of Britain’s youth.
Whilst Ali G was, of course, a character of parody, the words that he used were very much real, even if they were delivered in a deliberately ridiculous manner. The societal wide implications of such an important disjunction between the creators of youth culture and its purveyors perhaps go some way to explaining why it is quite possible to hear songs about shooting people and pimping prostitutes at lunch time on BBC Radio 1 (as well as on a host of other commercial stations).
The power of lyrics and of the gang-culture which they so readily and potently promote should not be underestimated. The subject as a whole – and indeed Giggs, who has begun to show that there are more strings to his bow than just gun-rap – is deserving of far more searching and wide-reaching analysis than can be proffered here. However, to the question ‘is there a link between music and violence?’ which is often posed of rappers, the answer is, in my experience, a simple and resounding ‘yes’.
As a case in point, here is a true story.
I recently taught a very bright very 11 boy. He was generally quite lazy with his studies but was smart enough to realise that he needed to pass his GCSEs. He was, I believe, destined to achieve nine A-B grades; if any C grades were to creep in, the cause was lack of application, not ability. He was also widely lauded as the school’s best rapper, consistently producing intelligent, witty lyrics with a depth and speed that his competitors simply could not match. This was not surprising as his insight into complex texts was always excellent and his analysis always maturely and articulately expressed.
His lyrics, however, revealed another side to him that was remarkably suppressed in the classroom. His rapping was peppered with gun and knife references and he consistently name-dropped ‘LMS’. LMS stands for ‘Leavin’ Mans Shook’, which, in traditional English, means ‘making people, mostly low-level street gangsters, very scared’. LMS was the name of a local gang to which he was affiliated.* Video clips on You Tube posted by other affiliates still show him ‘spitting’ (rapping) on his estate and ‘repping the crew’.
Oddly, he doesn’t turn up to his Geography exam so someone phones home to see where he is – this is, after all, one of the school’s most promising pupils who should, in a sane world, breeze through his A-Levels and bag himself a place in a good university should he so wish.
Sadly however, this is unlikely to be the case. It transpired that he was unable to attend his exam as he was being held in a youth detention centre where he was due to remain until his trial. A dawn raid by police had revealed that he had a hand-gun and a sub-machine gun hidden in the bottom of his wardrobe. Subsequently, he was found guilty of the very same offence as Giggs plus, I believe, one or two others. He will be released when he is 21 - just in time to watch some of his less able classmates graduate.
* Gang name has been changed