Amber (21) is a volunteer and part of the Youth Music Reprezent training programme, has written from the heart about classism, austerity and how grime music's relation to poorer areas has been to some degree weaponised by journalists to belittle tragic loss.
Following the deaths of two young aspiring musicians from South East London, a minority of journalists chose to use these deaths to provide a context for articles that were arguably written to cause controversy, sell papers or bait for clicks.
Reprezent works with a lot of young people from these areas who are aspiring artists and have been a starting point for several high profile careers (Stormzy, Novelist, Lady Leshurr, Section Boys). Whilst grime music has elements of 'realness', it is questionable for a journalist to use one persons aspirations to succeed as a musician as an indicator that they were more likely to die than someone else.
Anyway, this is Ambers story...
Hello. I am Amber. I volunteer at Reprezent aand have a late night Grime show that features music from underground artists who are local to us here in South London.
I love grime, the culture, the wit and the community.
Tragically, in August, I heard of the death of 16 year old Showkey aka Leoandro Osemeke, also an aspiring rapper and a friend of Myron’s, who had also been tragically killed prior to this.
It’s not that I knew either Myron or Leoandro and this wasn’t something that happened on my doorstep. I live a bit from where these tragedies took place and in a way I’m grateful for that. It was that a young life with so much potential was gone.
What strikes me is the fact that those charged with Myron’s murder are 16 and 18 years old and a 15 year old has been arrested in connection with Leoandro’s death. It’s not just Myron and Leoandro’s lives that have been written off at such a young age.
I spend most of my days behind my laptop screen with a semi-permanent screw face on listening to grime and hip-hop, rap music and grime culture isn’t something that I am a part of, but I love listening to it either way. Myron and Leoandro’s music and bars weren’t something I was aware of but I’ve since taken a listen to both. Amongst the usual ‘rap’ style lyrics, there were lyrics that allowed me to catch a glimpse of Myron’s personality. It was tragic to listen to Leaondro spit about Myron’s death and about the lifestyle he was involved with. It appeared to me that Myron and Leaondro were just young lads who were adapting to their surroundings. They were people who were working hard in order to get out of a place which was probably quite negative at times.
‘Bun a postcode cos I run mine, we don’t get no type of sunshine. Come dine, bruddas get smoked over gun crime’
‘Just grinding, just grinding, up all night tryna’ put time in’
‘Catch me on a rainy day, I’m still smiling’
‘Cos I didn’t choose to live this life, I got opps man I didn’t want to grip this knife’
‘Is the streets really worth it? All the good die young, my n**ga was almost perfect)
15 teenagers were fatally stabbed last year (the highest number in seven years), so that’s 15 parents, 15 families, left behind to deal with the heartbreak. Leoandro was the 5th teenager to be killed in London this year already. Since then, a further 3 boys have been killed. My underlying thoughts are how truly tragic and unnecessary these deaths are.
One or two well-known journalists seemed to mock a handful of things mentioned by those who commented on Myron’s death, things I consider to be a massive influence on young people and therefore the way they go on to live their lives. I consider them to be key contributing factors to knife crime and behaviour amongst young people. Let’s look at some of the facts, which clearly never make it to the final edit of those articles.
Myron and Leoandro both lived in Lewisham. If we look at statistics, it’s clear to see that location is important. The murder rate in Lewisham is twice the national average and its streets have been named the ‘least peaceful’ amongst England and Wales. Unfortunately, there’s been an 11.4% rise in crimes committed in Lewisham totalling to 24,628 in the past 12 months (met.police.uk). I compared that with where one of the journalists grew up in Barnstaple, in the past 12 months there have been 1,637 crimes committed there.
Quite a difference.
In 2010, it was found that 20,355 children aged 0-18 were living in poverty in Lewisham. The affect that poverty alone can have on a young person is huge. You grew up in a middle-class family in a small town so knowing what it’s like to live in these types of conditions is definitely not within your remit. Low income and lone parent families are just some of the risk factors linked with poor mental health and unfortunately these are common in Lewisham, as stated in the ‘Review of Lewisham Children and Young People’s Plan 2012-2015’ which was conducted in April 2014. Mental health issues can be hugely detrimental to a young person – it can completely change the direction in their life. These are just some of the problems that young people in Lewisham are faced with, so yes, I believe area does play its part. After all, they were trying to make a career, out of music, something that plenty of young boys from South London have done before them.
Another area that’s been seriously affected is youth services – the vital frontline work in communities such as Lewisham that is so important in shaping the youth of today. This includes one-to-one work with young people who may struggle in school or have difficulties at home for example. Youth work enables those who may be socially excluded to be supported and have better chances of succeeding in life. These are just some of the reasons that young people may get caught up in criminal activity and therefore more likely to engage in violent behaviour.
Music is a fundamentally important outlet for young people, Myron and Leoandro were teenagers with a passion for music who were putting their talents to use. In the review of ‘Lewisham’s Children and Young People’s Plan 2012-15’ there is an emphasis on the importance of access to culture, sport and leisure activities for children and young people. They state that access to the arts provides many benefits with relation to social, cognitive and behavioural development as well as expressing emotions, social skills and developing imagination. They believe music study teaches children and young people effort and dedication to achieve excellence and the rewards of hard work. To finalise, they mentioned that music performance helps young people to conquer fear and take risks which I think couldn’t be more true and is an integral part of the path to success.
There are countless individuals doing truly inspirational things within music. No doubt they’ve got to these positions and grabbed these opportunities with both hands because of their hard work and dedication. Music is just a hobby for many but the truly talented individuals take a leap of faith and hope to make a living from it. Pursuing an untraditional career path such as music means you have a lot more to lose, as there is so much at stake. I therefore admire those people greatly.
As a fan of grime, hip-hop and rap music I can’t say I’m always fond of the lyrical content that is put out into the urban music world. I believe that some urban music does glorify violence. Sadly, this isn’t something that I have any knowledge about, however I think it’s something that does seriously need to be addressed. Education on knives needs to continue. Young people need to be shown that they can succeed. Due to a lack of self-belief many young people go down paths they think they have to, they do things they believe will help them survive. Tackling knife crime will be a long and treacherous road, but it will be made easier by young people themselves helping to stand against these crimes.
I listen to grime every day, it’s one of the genres that has allowed me to escape a negative place in my own life. As much as it’s an outlet for people writing it’s also an outlet for those who are listening.
RIP to both Myron and Leoandro, talented young men who were the victims of fatal stab wounds, both tragic and preventable.