1. ITV Report

Rappers using ‘gospel drill’ to save youths from street violence

Drill rappers turned gospel artists ‘Hope Dealers’ perform on stage at a SPAC Nation event held at the Riverbank Park Plaza, London. Credit: PA

Former gang members have combined drill music with the gospel to try to rescue youths from violence and drugs.

Every Sunday, a group called Hope Dealers, rap about redemption and salvation to a crowd of more than 1,000 church-goers from the SPAC Nation church in London.

Hope Dealers delivers performances bursting with energy to the congregation at the Riverbank Plaza Hotel in the capital between sermons and testimonials from members wearing urban clothing such as hoodies.

Nathan Oki, who grew up in Peckham, south-east London, and whose best friend was stabbed to death when he was just 15, said mixing drill with Christian messages helps them reach troubled youths.

Drill rappers turned gospel artists 'Hope Dealers' perform on stage at a SPAC Nation event. Credit: PA

The 28-year-old, now a pastor with SPAC Nation said: "At about 13 or 14 I really started to be a product of my environment, I’m talking about broken homes, anger, poverty … from there life took a downward spiral.

"Having friends stabbed and losing people can become normalised in one’s eyes. You get to a point where you begin to accept it.

"For many of us we’ve had to have someone grab our hand and say 'Come, here’s a different route'.

"But without that you’re just thinking 'How do I survive in this jungle?'"

The group, whose tagline is "Dealing hope to the lost", has racked up hundreds of thousands of views online with their slickly-produced videos.

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A pastor and member who wanted be known only as Alex gave the example of a gangster who had been jailed seven times but now operates a successful chauffeur business.

Pastor Alex, 22, whose friend was fatally knifed in 2013, said many youths in London suffer from thinking their only path out of deprivation is criminal.

He said: "When you grow up here it’s either: you play football, you rap, or you sell drugs or do fraud or you go to work – but you don’t want to go to work because you’ve seen your mum and dad struggle.

“Your scope is already small in life - what we try and do is take them out of that scope and expose them to the opportunities of life.”

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The group is sceptical that lyrically violent drill music is fuelling knife crime after it was accused of doing so by senior judges and figures like Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick.

Unlike some forms of the genre which can feature aggressive lyrics and threats to rival groups, the Hope Dealers’ brand of drill mixes messages about God with social commentary and a wry sense of humour.

Another, from the song Levels, is lighter in tone: "This truth’s so loud/I can’t really hear you/I’m not trying to see the dark side/I’ve got a curfew."

The Hope Dealers rap about redemption to a crowd of more than 1,000 church-goers. Credit: PA

Oki said: "Much hasn’t changed at all in terms of how crime has played out.

"I think what is changing is the media coverage … but in terms of the violence nothing much is changing."

"It’s about looking at what’s happened prior to the music that’s causing these young men to behave in a manner like this."

Alex added: "Even back in the day before there was drill, rappers were still speaking about the exact same thing. Drill stems out of the root problem."