Young Deacon is angry. The 17-year-old south London rapper watched his peers wreak havoc across the city last week in a frenzy of fire and destruction. In part of the borough where he lives, Wandsworth, a group of an estimated 1000 ransacked shops and clashed with police for several hours. Similar scenes took place in neighbouring Brixton and Peckham.
As the city was burning, at home in his bedroom Deacon wrote and recorded a song. Though he did not approve of the destruction on his streets, he felt he understood why it was happening. The rioters were filled with rage – and so was he.
Titled “Failed by the System”, the song touches on the Iraq war, unemployment, and criticises the media (“We’re branded alot / As rioters, looters / Murderers, yobs / Knifers, shooters / Depicted as the worst / On your news and computers”). It references budget cuts, crime rates and accuses the government of not having a grasp on why the riots happened (“You're focused on an issue / But you don’t know what the issue is / We were raised / By a generation of hypocrites”).
A debate has raged across Britain about whether the riots were just an expression of mere opportunistic criminality or a symptom of something much deeper – rooted in societal inequalities. For Deacon it is unquestionably the latter. His lyrics tap in to a sense, reflected in interviews with young people involved in the rioting, that something at the core of our society is broken or at least failing to function the way it should:
Don’t give up on the kids / They’re in need of support / Better role models / Not leaders at war / It takes a whole community / To raise a single child / So please think twice / Before you blame him cause he’s wild / If only he had that / Little bit of guidance / Maybe he wouldn’t be / Running from the sirens / Maybe he wouldn’t be / Adding to the violence / And maybe he wouldn’t be / Out in the riots
So what compelled Deacon to record the song? “The same reason why large amounts of young adults took to the streets that very same night, intent on causing havoc and destruction – the reason is anger,” he says.
“Like so many others my age, I feel as though I have been dealt an injustice within the society I live, or in other words, the sense of being ‘Failed by the System’. This idea is grounded not only in the rising of tuition fees [for university], but also within the spending cuts including youth club activities, and even through the stereotypical generalisation we – as a generation – receive from public authorities such as the Metropolitan Police.”
But it is not just politics or economics that is the root of Deacon’s grievance. The media, he believes, also has a significant role to play. He mentions a peaceful protest the black community staged at Scotland Yard two months ago that received no news coverage, referred to by another young man in Tottenham last week.
“As unfortunate as it is, the young generation have come to the realisation that in this day and age, those with power only respond to violence and destruction,” he says. “It [the media] is there to selectively filter the thoughts and opinions of a whole nation. This may seem like a whole different discussion, but nevertheless is part of an important issue that led up to the outbreak of riots, and therefore needs to be addressed.”
Quoting a friend, he adds: “We steal a pair of trainers, and the youth are in the media spotlight. A banker breaks the economy, and receives bonuses.”
On Wednesday, Deacon plans to release an album – “Poetic Justice” – for free download that he says will address the circumstances that led to the rioting. He invites people to listen to his music to “experience the system through the eyes of the failed.”
As for the future, he warns more trouble could be on the horizon, though remains somewhat hopeful that things could change for the better.
“I believe that the riots Britain faced this week are but a ‘small’ spillage of a boiling pot,” he says. “Save the youth, save the future.”