On Tuesday, a young man who wished to remain anonymous was interviewed on the BBC’s World at One. ‘What’s your first name?’ presenter Sarah Montague asked him. ‘I’d rather not disclose that,’ he replied, in a strong ‘Ali G’-style accent.
He was known, he explained, simply as Chinx (OS), the persona he used to make drill rap music, a genre which has been widely blamed for fuelling and glamorising bloody turf wars between rival ‘postcode’ gangs.
The OS stands for ‘one side’ or one team of a collective of rappers from Camden, North London, of which Chinx is a part.
He had come on Radio 4 to defend his controversial video which was initially posted on Instagram in January then removed at the request of the Met Police because of concern the clip would ‘contribute a risk to offline harm’ and could lead to ‘retaliatory violence’.
It’s now back up and available. Meta, the owners of the social media behemoth, reversed the ban following an appeal by the ‘artist’ and the footage, lasting nearly two and a half minutes, is to be reinstated. In it, Chinx is at the centre of a group of hooded figures, his eyes peering out over a mask, holding his fingers in the shape of a pistol — so-called ‘gun fingers’ as the pose is known in this subculture.
On Tuesday, a young man who wished to remain anonymous was interviewed on the BBC’s World at One. ‘What’s your first name?’ presenter Sarah Montague asked him. ‘I’d rather not disclose that,’ he replied, in a strong ‘Ali G’-style accent
Yet the removal of the video, Secrets Not Safe by Chinx (OS), was deemed a mistake which breached the basic principles of free speech, Meta concluded in a lengthy judgment. It also raised serious concerns of ‘potential over-policing of certain communities’.
‘Not every piece of content that law enforcement would prefer to have taken down should be taken down,’ the judgment stressed… ‘particularly when they relate to artistic expression from individuals in minority or marginalised groups for whom the risk of cultural bias against their content is acute.’
Victims of gang violence — including those sometimes caught in the crossfire — might see things differently.
Drill rap, it is true, is a brand of music where fact and fiction can blur.
But the deciphered lyrics in Secrets Not Safe, as the title implies, contain coded references to real shootings, real stabbings and the real murder in 2019 of a teenager in Camden, in which a rival is clearly being called out and mocked. ‘Dissing,’ or disrespecting, a rival in such a way has triggered tit-for-tat reprisals in the past — all of them violent, many fatal.
The deciding members of the panel, however (which includes former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger), said there was not enough evidence the video constituted a ‘veiled threat’ which could lead to violence.
Perhaps they might have done if they’d known a little more about Chinx’s background. He said in his World at One interview that the reason for keeping his identity secret was to keep ‘my personal life separate from my music career’. However, a former Scotland Yard detective who took part in the programme offered an alternative explanation — that Chinx might be a possible target, in the disparate subculture he inhabits.
But the deciphered lyrics in Secrets Not Safe, as the title implies, contain coded references to real shootings, real stabbings and the real murder in 2019 of a teenager in Camden – 16-year-old Alex Smith
For this reason, although we know the identity of Chinx, the Mail has chosen not to name him. Either way, this 24-year-old Londoner is clearly involved in the nihilistic world he rapped about, if Secrets Not Safe is anything to go by.
One of the lines, written in the first person, for example, reads: ‘Got eight for the hammer, I ate that sentence.’ ‘Hammer’ is slang for a gun, probably a pistol in this context, which suggests he has just been released from an eight-year sentence for a firearms offence.
We can confirm that he was jailed for eight years at Blackfriars Crown Court in March 2018 for possession of a loaded Walther P38 pistol with intent to endanger life.
Expelled from school aged 15, he has previous convictions for robbery in 2014 and assault in 2016 and was handed a further four months’ custody for absconding from Hollesley Bay, a men’s open prison in Suffolk in 2020.
He was freed in October last year and released Secrets Not Safe, his debut song, in January.
He told the Mail: ‘The lyrics are obviously controversial. We all know that. The police and probation started talking about the risk it poses to myself and others but I don’t think it does.
‘It is all entertainment and marketing. It is all just a narrative from the aspect of someone on the streets. Before my time, there has been a culture in my genre of rap that people have rap battles and clashes over personal things.
‘In my defence, James Bond goes round shooting people. I don’t speak about murder or crazy things. There is a boundary I have.’
His manager and long-time friend, known as Ramps, told us: ‘He has not been found guilty of any shooting. He converted in jail and is a Muslim now. He is living a very clean lifestyle at the moment.’
It’s not the image he projects in his video. The name Chinx (OS) is derived from U.S. rapper Chinx DrugZ, who was gunned down in Queen’s, New York, in 2015.
Chinx revealed on Instagram how he has been ‘served with new licence conditions’ which prohibit him from entering Camden and Islington, associating with past or present gang members, and having more than one mobile phone and SIM card. A copy of an excerpt from the order imposing the restrictions has also been uploaded.
More telling, though, is the personal statement complaining about the release restrictions which appeared on Instagram before being posted on internet forums.
It reads: ‘I CANNOT INSIGHT (SIC) NOR ENCOURAGE ANY GANG RELATED HOSTILITY’… ‘I CANNOT ENCOURAGE OR INSIGHT (SIC) THE COMMISSION OF ANY OFFENCE’… ‘HOW CAN I EXPRESS MYSELF AND TELL MY STORY WITH THESE CONDITIONS?!’
Isn’t this a tacit admission, if the statement was written by Chinx —and there is nothing to suggest it wasn’t — that the police were right and Meta was wrong?
He is now on course to become one of the country’s ‘biggest ever drill rappers’, according to aficionados of the scene, due in no small part to the controversy surrounding the re-instatement of his video on Instagram. The decision was made by the Oversight Board of Meta, a quasi-independent ‘supreme court’ set up in 2018 to arbitrate on such matters.
The board has 23 members, among them academics, politicians and journalists from around the world, with six from the U.S. and others from countries including Kenya, Cameron, Australia, Egypt, Brazil, Israel, Yemen and Colombia.
Rusbridger, a former Principal of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, was one of the first members of the board. Former Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt, wife of Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, is also a member.
Rusbridger, a former Principal of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, was one of the first members of the board. Former Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt, wife of Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, is also a member
Decisions are prepared by panels of five and approved by the majority of the board. Decisions do not necessarily represent the personal views of all members. Members were assisted, in this latest case, by a team of social scientists from an independent research institute based at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.
Still, many will feel that high-minded decision, by a liberal elite, is dangerously misguided and at odds with the vast majority of ordinary British people.
It was also at odds with some of the available evidence. A toxic combination of drill rap, social media and revenge attacks are causing countless deaths and injuries in London, a report by the Policy Exchange think tank found last year.
The analysis of ten years of data specifically pinpointed 41 gang-related homicides in 2018, at least 15 (36 per cent) were directly linked to drill music, meaning either the victim or perpetrator was a drill rapper or drill videos formed part of the criminal case. The figure was 23 per cent for the 44 gang-related homicides in 2019.
The report faced criticism from some criminologists and social scientists who said it was ‘misleading.’ But Meta (the company itself, not the Oversight Board) cited the findings by the Policy Exchange to justify taking down 164 posts featuring the video clip at the behest of the Met Police.
The video, which cost £500 to make — and Chinx has now made thousands from — was filmed on the Cumberland Market Estate in Camden. Chinx and the other masked and hooded youths are seen posing on the stairways in front of The Combe tower block, clearly visible in the clip, which overlooks Regents Park, one of the most exclusive postcodes in the capital. According to posts and threads on social media, Chinx is from the estate, which is also the base of the Cumbo street gang.
The Cumbo crew is involved in a bloody war with rivals from the nearby Agar Grove estate.
Chinx and a leading figure from the Agar Grove gang are believed to have once been close friends who went to the same school in Camden but who have now fallen out spectacularly.
While Chinx was in prison, so the narrative goes, he is said to have been ‘dissed’ in raps by the former pal from Agar Grove, who cannot be named for legal reasons. Secrets Not Safe is Chinx’s response; almost the entire video is devoted to taunting and insulting the Agar Grove mob in general and his former friend in particular.
This is the backstory to the controversy. The clip, like all drill material, is littered with violent words and imagery, with a vocabulary understood by a select few: ‘splashed’ (stabbed), ‘sweets’ and ‘stones’ (bullets), ‘corn’ (ammunition) ‘mash’ (gun), ‘bun’ (shot) ‘smoke’ (kill), ‘fry’ (shooting) ‘Opp Block’ (enemy block), ‘On volts’ (intent on violence). ‘Performative Bravado’ is how the Oversight Board described this kind of rapping and more weight should have been given to the ‘artistic nature’ of the video, it said.
The police were more worried about the consequences of what they were convinced was a ‘threatening call to action’ contained in the lyrics that referenced a shooting in Agar Grove.
This was one of the lines that concerned them: ‘We had man dashin’ (running) in Agar Grove. Still fill up man’s face with stones (bullets).
Deciphering it, one theory is that it is a direct reference to an incident in 2017 when a young man was shot in the head in the car park of the estate, but avoided fatal injuries.
Witnesses described the victim removing his T-shirt and holding it up to his face to stem the flow of blood before ‘diving’ into a car and being driven away from the scene which was subsequently locked down by officers carrying automatic weapons.
Earlier in the year, three men needed hospital treatment for bullet wounds following another shooting which the Camden New Journal reported was the result of a confrontation between ‘rival gangs that began in Agar Grove’.
The escalating violence culminated in the murder of 16-year-old former Southampton youth footballer Alex Smith in 2019, who was a friend of Chinx.
The teenager’s street name was Culprit, according to online forums. He was associated with the Cumbo gang but was not a member himself. Nevertheless, he was targeted by the Agar Grove gang who had driven around in stolen cars hunting rivals when they spotted Alex leaving a Nando’s restaurant late one night.
He was chased and stabbed at least twice in the chest with a ‘fearsome weapon’ half a metre long.
Again, this sociopathic attack is referenced in Secrets Not Safe.
To anyone outside this subculture the lyrics, ‘Armed Response got splashed (stabbed) he was lacking (caught unawares)’ is incomprehensible.
You might think ‘Armed Response’ refers to the police. But the ‘A’ and the ‘R’ are capped up because they refer, by all accounts, to a real person. He is identified on social media as Arif Biomy, who was stabbed in the chest in May 2019.
Biomy was one of the six members of the Agar Grove gang who hunted down Alex Smith (Culprit) three months later. Biomy, then 19, was at the wheel of a Seat Leon using false plates.
Biomy, from Plumstead, SouthEast London, was jailed for life for his part in the murder and will serve a minimum of 21 years.
The judge condemned the ‘blight’ of gang violence that caused ‘an enormous amount of fear within the communities where they take place’, adding: ‘Alex Smith was hunted down by two cars and six people. During the final minutes of his life he must have been truly terrified of what was to happen.’
There is a second reference in the song to the murder of Alex Smith immediately after ‘Armed Response’ is called out using the same lyrics: ‘2Smokeyy got splashed, he was lacking.’
The character 2Smokeyy is a rapper who made a song, Knock Down Ginger, which mocks the murder of Alex Smith.
Chinx’s latest song, trailed all week on Instagram, was released at 8pm on Thursday and racked up thousands of views on YouTube within hours.
The video shows balaclava-clad youths using bolt cutters to break into a compound and steal a car, swiftly changing the number plate.
Will it cause the same controversy?
A team of 50 social scientists on six continents helped the Oversight Board of Meta reach the decision to reinstate Secrets Not Safe by Chinx (OS) on Instagram.
They could have saved time and money by speaking to former Scotland Yard detective Stephen Keogh who was interviewed along with Chinx on World at One.
‘I dealt with murders for 12 years in London and a lot of those would have been gang related,’ he said. ‘All bar none, I don’t think there was a case that I was involved in that didn’t have some sort of connection to drill music.’