It’s a drizzly afternoon in Woolwich, where Drillminister – the passionate, provocative drill artist hoping to become London’s new mayor – spent most of his childhood. “I kind of grew up all around South but I’ve lived everywhere, to be honest,” he says from beneath his trademark balaclava. “Poorer parts of the city were always my environment, so that allows me to see the pyramid of how the system works from the bottom-up, not the top-down.”
His last two years have been eventful, to say the least. In 2018, Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick launched a campaign against drill music, which she argued was “glamorising violence.” Before long, Drillminister was dragged into a mainstream media storm – but he held his own and responded with ‘Political Drillin’’, a track laced with violent quotes lifted straight from Parliament. His message rang loud and clear: violent rhetoric is fine for some, but not for others.
Since then, he’s spoken passionately of the horrors he saw growing up, and broken down the incendiary ‘knife crime debate’ with ease by highlighting other factors at play: poverty, segregation, disillusionment. So, when he announced his candidacy back in January this year, people took note. Clickbait headlines were replaced by slots on Victoria Derbyshire, and Drillminister – once framed by press, in his own words, as “the masked clown” – soon felt like a viable, determined candidate with an urgent message and real insight into communities often ignored or misunderstood by privileged politicians. His reasoning is simple: “if you don’t trust them, trust one of your own.”
At your candidacy announcement, you talked about treating Londoners as people, not statistics. Do you think there’s a lack of humanity in politics?
Definitely. I don’t really see anyone looking at a person to identify what their problems are, what their hang-ups might be, why they’re not doing as well as society hopes – or trying to work out schemes to help those that need it. It seems like we’re abandoning people a lot, which is why I keep stressing that I’m not trying to do that.
What has the reception to your campaign been like so far?
It’s been amazing! I’m third in the running – I overtook Rory Stewart because of some little mishap that he had. I’m just struggling on. I’m not a political candidate that’s well-versed in this world, yet I’m up against strong powers. For me, it’s been organic. I’m really out here with the people, and you can’t beat that – when you have an agenda, it shows. My campaign is unorthodox, but what isn’t these days?
Before they knew you as a politician, people knew you as a drill artist. When did you start making music?
I’ve always had a passion for it, but when I started getting seriously into it, I began engineering for other artists – a lot of main artists on the scene right now are people I helped to develop as an executive producer. It’s ironic that I took to the mic myself, it only happened after the death of another artist I was helping to develop. That inspired me. He was never going to be able to tell the tale of why things are like this, so I decided to do things myself.
With all that in mind, how did it then feel to hear the police chief accuse your work of glamorising violence?
It’s a kick in the face. You’ve got a Tory government that’s administered 10 years of austerity. There have been cuts to every single type of funding for anybody from the underclasses, and the living situations of people in the poorer parts of the city have been turned into hellholes. Drill is made out of the hellholes you created for us, and now you’re angry because we’re talking about it? You don’t see drill popping up in Cambridge or Oxford. Ask yourself why – it’s obvious!
It seems like you were really thrown into politics through those accusations. How did you adapt?
It’s been a bit mad! You learn the little loopholes of politics. I thought it was a free democracy and that anyone could run to be mayor, but they basically put a £10,000 admission fee there. I didn’t know there were terms and conditions, or that you needed 330 signatures from constituents across London. That’s fine if you’re part of a political party, but how do you access that otherwise? I ended up just rounding people up through social media, I don’t have any million-dollar oligarchs behind me! I’m running on the power of the people, so I’m hoping old-school democracy is enough.
What else have you learned about the system?
You have to know those with power to have power. There’s a booklet that each candidate is meant to go in to, which is sent to every person across London. It has every candidate and manifesto, so I thought that, once you were officially a candidate, you would go into that book. But no: you have to pay a further £10,000. That’s £20,000 to run for mayor – what normal man can afford to spend that amount of his own income? You’re basically saying: if you’re not a doctor, you’re not qualified to run!
Knife crime is a pretty big factor in your policy proposals, can you talk a little more about that?
Definitely, I’m not shying away from it. We need to improve the relationship between communities and authorities, but the main thing pissing me off about the knife crime debate is that certain ingredients have resulted in a community being destroyed over the years. Then, you say: what’s the answer?
I don’t like to say it’s going to be solved overnight, or that there’s one answer. How many kids are being chucked out of school or leaving with low grades? How many have gone in [to prison] for a minor offence, been given more time than they should have been and then made to come out with no prospects? That might add on to the fact that their parents haven’t been paid from Universal Credit, so they’re having to make money to keep the lights on. Politicians don’t mention these things.
Does this tie back into the idea of people being treated as statistics?
You could have a normal kid that isn’t inclined at all to be violent, but then he sees his friend get stabbed on the way home from school. He sees this guy’s spleen hanging out, and now he’s got PTSD. He becomes violent because he’s angry, but there’s nobody to talk to at school. Is anyone identifying with these people? No, they’re just seeing them as numbers: throw a book at this, throw a social worker at that. The system is working for itself. The judge is getting paid, because he’s got lots of cases. The social worker, the teacher, the person at the centre for bad kids – they’re all getting paid. But what’s happening to these individuals? Nothing. You’re fucking them for the next decade of their life: they’re forced to become bottom-feeders of society, and then you complain about them being there.
How did it feel to try having these nuanced conversations within mainstream media?
It’s been a very, very weird experience! They don’t want me in that environment, but when I’m sat there with Holly and Phil, viewership is going through the roof. They’re going viral by having me on, so they can’t fight numbers. Men and women lie, numbers don’t.
Any weird experiences that stick out?
The Daily Mail was really tearing me a new arsehole. They were writing absurd things, saying I spilt water down myself on Newsnight, when I didn’t. Then, in a music video where I was encouraging people to vote, they said I encouraged people to say they wanted to stab Boris Johnson. But after I announced I was running for mayor and went on Victoria Derbyshire, the stories have changed – maybe because I opened up about myself. Every report has been more positive since then, which is weird: they don’t like anybody!
Now that your policies are being talked about, what are your main aims?
In terms of crime, there are things like Divert, which identifies [school-kids] that are failing and then rehabilitates them separately to the class. They give those kids attention to make sure they pass, but a lot of those kids don’t want to go towards those companies because they’re secretly set up by the police. They think they’re snitching on themselves, so might not want to share private information, like a parent with substance abuse – anything that could get them into trouble or disrupt their family environment. Things come across differently when you’re dealing with the police, so if these were independent entities with the input of community leaders, we might be able to actually divert these kids.
You mentioned the link between knife crime and mental health earlier, too.
There aren’t enough counsellors going to deal with the trauma of what’s happening in deprived areas. Kids are going through PTSD, just like soldiers in Afghanistan. They’re seeing people stabbed, they’re having nightmares and shit! There’s treatment for that in the military: it’s called shell shock. But with these kids, nothing is happening. It’s like: “Kieran, I know your friend died last week, but let’s carry on with the mathematical equations.” How? You’re distraught – you just saw your best friend die, he’s in the ground rotting! You can’t just carry on with life, it doesn’t work like that.
I spoke to some of the children at Grenfell, who saw people on fire jumping from the 15th floor. They’ve got shell shock. They’re fucked, but there’s no treatment for them and the government doesn’t give a fuck. Those kids are going to grow up to be numb and desensitised. It’s happening every day. Then people try to meet aggression with aggression, and put more police on the street. So now, we have a police state. Sure, that’s really going to solve it!
Then there are the other issues of police distrust, and the statistics showing pretty clear racial bias.
You have to ask: is London’s police service diverse enough? Are we doing this right? Or are we getting Richard from Surrey – who has never been to London and doesn’t know it – to jump out of a fucking car and arrest a dad and his son, both wearing tracksuits for the gym, because they look like usual suspects? An officer that works in the area and knows the community might say to a kid: “look, don’t misbehave and make me talk to your mum!” That’s the kind of policing we need in London right now, not these guys from the outside that can’t distinguish a crack sale from two guys going to the gym. People say the police are there to help us, but that’s not how it’s seen within certain communities – and the police knows it, too.
Finally: why should people vote for you?
Because I’m their last chance of real democracy. So many people with political agendas are trying to strong-arm the public, but I’m not here to scratch some oligarch’s back. There’s biased information or misinformation coming from other candidates – well, up to a certain point. They’re all good people trying to do better for London, and I can’t knock them for that. There is a mutual respect, but they do have political agendas. In my eyes, it’s not a fair race: their campaigns are based on ideology, but mine is based on people.
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