The track “Neighbourhood Watch” dropped on Halloween, a surprise collaboration between Skepta, one of the biggest names in British music, and LD – “the masked one” from South London rap crew, “family” and “brand” 67. In the first verse, LD issues a warning: Better put me down as king or governor any time you mention drill. Since the early 2010s, British rap has fractured into various new styles and sounds, many of which honor the living links to Caribbean and West African music that have always played a larger role in UK electronic music than its North American counterparts. At the same time, two dominant narratives have emerged. One is the triumphant return of grime, a genre that grew out of jungle and garage in the mid-2000s, boosted by its own musical primogenitor Wiley. The other has been the moral panic around drill. Drill music was born on Chicago’s South Side amid escalating violence and nihilism – its verbal drilling evokes the automatic weaponry of the city’s mob past and arguably, the nation’s present. It might be read as the inverse of southern trap’s aspirational turn: an art form that aims to describe a difficult reality, rather than avoid it. As with hip hop more generally, it’s faster in the UK, but the thematic content is the same on both sides of the Atlantic: this is music for those who might like to, but have not been able to “escape the hood.”
67 have led the popularization of UK drill since 2015 and their debut tape In Skengs We Trust. It was serendipity, according to Dimzy, who recalled flipping through instrumentals while visiting family in Sheffield in a recent interview with NME. The video for single “Take It There” still looks like an aesthetic template for the genre: smoke, balaclavas, (former) social housing blocks, confrontational gestures for the “opps,” and a lyrical content that makes
reference to dipping, swimming, and spilling (that’s stabbing, stabbing, and bleeding). After trouble with cancelled tour dates (for which some blame the now-discarded risk assessment Form 696), the six core members ASAP, Monkey, LD, Dimzy, Liquez, and SJ have become the first word on the line between art and life for many young fans, driving a genre of music which continues to rack up millions of views on YouTube, with or without record label backing. LD and Dimzy have released solo material, and there has been collaborations with Dizzy Rascal, Nadia Rose, and Mura Masa. That track, “All Around The World,” sees 67 enter
paradise mode: relaxed, optimistic, leaving the country and their pasts behind.
There’s one further collaboration on which the name 67 does not appear: “Man’s Not Hot,” a tune which began as a skit on comedian Michael Dapaah’s YouTube sitcom #SWIL. In the video’s final scene, Dapaah approaches 67 in Brixton in the guise of Roadman Shaq, a pastiche from the ends who freestyles over the beat from the hit “Let’s Lurk.” Today 67’s “Let’s Lurk” has 14.7 million views – a stormer by anyone’s standards. “Man’s Not Hot” meanwhile has almost 300 million, and was one of the most-streamed songs of 2017 in the UK. Perhaps the instruction in “Neighbourhood Watch” to honor LD’s achievement “as king or governor” had a specific target in mind. The group are about to embark on a new series of European dates, stopping this Saturday November 17 at The Reed with 3’Hi in Berlin. When I call the number I’ve been given for an interview ahead of the show, it’s LD who picks up. “I’m just doing a photoshoot,” he says. “But you can hold the line if you want.” I hold the line. When we start chatting, I ask how it feels to get out of the UK.
LD: That’s my angle, man. First you’ve got to conquer home, then conquer Europe, then conquer the world.
Philip Maughan: Are all six coming?
Nah, just five.
SD. He’s just not allowed to leave the country for now.
How do you guys originally know each other?
We’re all from the same area so we all grew up together. A couple of us went to the same primary school – we’ve just got two different primary schools between us. We all grew up together. We’re knee-high friends.
At what stage did you start taking an interest in music?
I’d say properly in 2014, but before that, no matter where in London you’re from, or even probably all over the world, if you’re from the hood you rap as a hobby – or you play football or whatever – so a couple of us were rapping anyway. In 2014 we started putting things together.
Was it natural that things got more serious?
It was natural. We were all releasing music anyway so it felt right that we started doing it together.
At that stage I’m guessing you were listening to a lot of Chicago drill?
I spent a whole two years listening to those guys.
And what attracted you to that music?
It’s music that – it’s strange, you don’t notice you’re taking from it but you take from it. You get me? Before, I think, 2007, the whole of London was sounding like Giggs. That’s ‘cause in the streets Giggs was the in-thing. Then when 2011, 2012 came, Chicago’s drill was the in thing at the time for us. So that’s what we ended up taking from.
So there’s this new sound from the US, and at the same time there’s this grime revival in the making, and it feels like maybe two sides of the same coin: a light and a dark side maybe.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. The dark, the murk of drill. The light is grime. Grime is just an automatic UK thing that we inherited.
How do you feel like the 67 sound is changing?
It’s more air-friendly. That’s it. It’s more air-friendly. But you can still hear the aggression. You can still hear the different personalities.
Is that just because you’re doing festivals now, touring overseas, getting radio play? Is it a desire to reach a bigger audience?
Yeah, of course. We love our original audience but there’s always space for more.
I’ve seen you refer to 67 as a “brand” rather than a crew or collective or any term we might have previously used. Why’s that?
Clothes. Or, let me not say clothing. 67 can release rizla. Everyone knows we love smoking. We all smoke weed. We love herbs. So we can make a rizla say “Roll It” or “Bill It” quickly. It’ll have the 67 logo. That’s still our brand. We can make a whole clothing line, and the 67 logo’s just on the tag, not visible, the tag’s inside the clothes, and it can say anything on the front and still be our brand. Not everybody can do that. A lot of people are just rappers, or they’re just musicians.
And is that your plan – to put these ideas into place?
Of course, man. Money don’t sleep.
Actually I noticed some LD masks on eBay already.
That’s someone bootlegging – but the LD mask is about to come out properly.
While we’re on the subject of the mask. I feel like at this stage I don’t need to ask you why it was there to begin with – it feels like that’s already out there.
But what I do want to ask about is the reaction it gets from people.
It’s a character, basically. A lot of people that have covered their face are just covering their face with no meaning. With this one, you want to know the story, you want to know what’s behind the mask, you want to know why he’s behind the mask, you want to know why the mask is cut like that, you know what I mean? Little things like that.
How does it feel to wear it?
It feels good. It feels like me. It sounds weird but it feels like me.
67 are closely associated with Brixton Hill and the area where you grew up. How have you seen Brixton change lately? Is it becoming a better place to live?
It’s becoming a better place to live in terms of buildings, shops, that kind of stuff, but at the same time they’re taking away parks and youth clubs, so I’m fifty-fifty with it. A good thing is they’re getting rid of all the single-glazing buildings. I’ll be real, my area’s the only place I’ve been in the last few years where I still see single-glazing buildings – I mean whole estates.
I was a big fan of “Let’s Lurk”. Incredibly catchy instrumental beat behind it. And I saw you guys in Michael Dapaah’s sitcom – though I did not foresee what would happen next.
I don’t think anyone in the world did.
How did it feel watching that blow up?
Ermmm, I’ll be real, at first I was angry. Then I used it as a learning path. But at the same time, I was happy for its success. It did shed some light onto drill, you know what I mean? For those who know where it originally came from anyway.
Maybe it also shows the potential for a drill tune.
Of course. “Let’s Lurk” itself done bits. It’s got like 14 million views. It was the fastest-moving tune at the time when it came out.
It’s kinda strange because you have the hardest music, and then someone’s doing like a comedy routine over it – but you guys have a lot of personality yourself. Drill is inventive. Do you think there’s room within drill for a bit of cheekiness and a bit of comedy anyway?
Well, yeah, I guess. It was always gunna happen. Someone takes the piss – or I should say, has fun – with every type of music. It just had to be our tune.
It feels like you’ve been put in a certain role with regard to centuries old questions around art and life – you know, violence in art and aggression in music versus crime on the streets etc. It seems like you’ve grown into that role. Does it annoy you that you have to answer these questions?
I’d say we’ve come to own it now. Obviously there’ll be a time when everyone gets to understand a bit more. Right now people are blind. But soon, they’ll understand.
But you’re communicating pretty well, it seems. You’ve talked about the word “stories” – saying if you listen to the music you can put yourself in that position and maybe say I don’t want to live that life, I want something different.
Yeah, I mean, that sounds like common sense to me.
So how do you communicate where the line is between fiction and reality?
It’s a good question. You should be able to see that. You can tell if a toy is fake or if it’s real. You can tell a fake piece or something from a real piece of something. A lot of these kids . . . whatever’s the fastest-moving music at the time, that’s what every little kid is gunna be trying to do. It’s just that drill’s the fastest-moving music at this time.
What can someone expect if they come down to the show in Berlin? Are you looking forward to it?
Yeah, I love Germany. This’ll be our third or fourth time back. They just have to be ready. They have to have the energy – be ready for jumpin, mosh pits, and love man.
67 will appear alongside YAW, DJ Milktray, Deadhype, and others at The Reed in Berlin-Mitte this Saturday, November 17.
- InterviewPhilip Maughan
- PhotographyBlue Laybourne