A Writer And Rapper Are Teaching Philosophy Using Drill Music During Lockdown In The UK

Ciaran Thapar is a writer and youth educator who recently teamed up with UK rapper, Reveal, to create an educational program that uses drill music to teach philosophical concepts.

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Ciaran Thapar is a writer and youth educator who recently teamed up with his friend Mehryar Golestani, a UK based ethnomusicologist, who is more commonly known by his stage name, Reveal. Golestani was a rapper and hip-hop artist in the UK in the early 2000’s, his most recent musical work was an EP released in 2012. Now, he strictly goes by his birth name and works as an ethnomusicologist, which is someone who studies the various musical styling/techniques/genres of the world. 

Thapar recently recruited Golestani to help him with a program he’s been creating for a little while now. The goal was to combine their skills and teach kids philosophical concepts with the energy of UK hip hop/drill music. The program itself is called “Roadworks” and its website defines it as an “inclusive music educational program that uses genres such as drill to engage young people in critical thinking and academic subjects.” With the current state of the world, Thapar knows it’s important to make learning as easy as possible for the youths of America as they transition into homeschooling, so he and Golestani created a virtual space so that they can continue their work. 

The two created a six-episode video series titled “Drillosophy” and in each episode, the two take a single philosophical concept and break it down using “metaphors thrown up in some drill and UK raps most popular songs.” For example, in the first episode Thapar explored the meaning/concept of Plato’s Cave by critically reading lyrics from a song written by South London drill duo, Skengdo x AM.

“This is philosophy made accessible for those not paying attention to their science teacher on Zoom. I’d been using Plato’s cave among lots of different thought experiments in youth work for a few years. There’s a reason why these ideas stand the test of time; there’s something about Plato’s cave that just clicks straight away. Young people are like: I’m with you,” says Thapar.

Each episode is released via the independent music platform, Mixtape Madness. In the first episode drill duo Skengdo x AM actually helped Thapar and Golestani critically break down the genre of drill music and why it’s so often censored by authority figures. Through this discussion they were able to compare that disdain for drill music to the distorted reality that’s exemplified in Plato’s Cave. 

Drill music is just as relevant in the UK as traditional rap/hip-hop music is here in the US. While the US also has a thriving drill culture, the smaller nature of the UK in general makes it much more densely known among that population compared to the larger US population. Among UK youths, drill music is often thought of as a “fraught illustration of the lives of teenagers engulfed in violence,” much like rap music is thought of. However, Thapar and Golestani believe that it’s important to understand the experiences of young people and why they not only connect to that kind of music, but write it themselves as well. 

“Their modes of expression need to be embraced, drill is something so all-pervading and powerful, talked about in politics and parliament and mainstream media. It travels into prisons and debating societies in university. Something about drill is connecting with a lot of people, on a human level,” Thapar stated. This is why it’s so important to Thapar to continue educating through this pandemic, he believes that unless the world is accounting for how the younger generation is feeling/experiencing this pandemic, then the world is denying the truth and the existence of the future.

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“By embracing drill, by trying to tackle it – not singing and dancing about it like it’s got no problems – but by really trying to get to grips with it, I think engages with a certain level of the truth. As a youth worker, teacher, educator, if you’re trying to engage with them on that level it’s really powerful,” Thapar claims.

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According to Thapar, other episodes in the series discuss philosophers like Aristotle and Jeremy Bentham while using lyrics from artists such as Krept & Konan, Knucks, Pop Smoke, and Ambush. Each episode is also accompanied by online materials to help better explain certain concepts in greater detail. The online materials are also specifically designed to help provide context for parents/guardians if they find themselves helping their kids out on certain lessons/assignments. 

Thapar claims that he originally wanted to create this program in response to the extreme government cuts that have occurred in the UK within the past decade that have led to an abundance of unemployed youths thanks to a lack of job market. The Covid-19 pandemic has obviously made the situation worse, so Thapar was adamant on continuing this educational program while also implementing mentoring Zoom sessions with students in order to better stay connected with everyone he’s working with. 

“One thing that never surprised me is how resilient young people are when adapting. So many young people are used to living with communication, and technology, that they’ve actually made that transition into this digital era that has been forced on us because of lockdown really successfully,” Thapar and Golestani said, praising their dedicated students who love the drill philosophy program. 

Drill was birthed on the internet and within the younger generation, so taking something from that millennial culture and implementing educational concepts within those lyrics, has made teaching during a pandemic much easier, according to the two. The creativity behind this program is the exact type of energy the world is trying to adopt as it continues to battle this ongoing pandemic. We all could learn a thing or two from the dedication that Thapar and Golestani exemplify through their Drillosophy program.