Why does the UK Home Office keep refusing entry to rap artists?
With multiple rap artists this year being refused entry into the UK, it makes you wonder whether the UK Home Office is picking and choosing who they let slip through and who they reject at the border. Whether it be a previous misdemeanour from years ago to lyrical content, it’s almost as if they’re waiting to catch them slipping up to enforce the law against them.
To say that I like rap music might be a bit of an understatement. I love heavily anecdotal verses like what Kendrick Lamar did on his 2012 breakout album Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. I love how they can paint a picture in my mind like The Game did on his 2003 album The Documentary, or hear about what life was like for them growing up, just like Jay-Z did on his 1996 album Reasonable Doubt.
I also like trap, mumble rap, lo-fi rap… The list goes on. If I had to choose my favourite style though, it would probably have to be gangsta rap. Evolving from hip-hop as a reflection of the violent lifestyles that one had to endure growing up in the early 1980s, rapper Ice T was credited with being one of the first pioneers of the genre. With his first single 'Cold Winter Madness' subsequently banned from radio stations because of its lyrics, rap groups such as N.W.A followed suit with songs from their 1988 album Straight Outta Compton banned for violent lyrics (see 'Fuck Tha Police').
Sonically though, gangsta rap is highly favoured because of its grittiness, blunt lyrics, hard-hitting beats and shocking lyrics. As violent lyrics can be classed as artistic expression, some people genuinely like listening to the intensities of what goes on in the streets in the cities of New York, Atlanta or Compton. One rap group that does this really well is the hip-hop collective, Griselda.
Founded in 2012 by Buffalo, NY rapper Westside Gunn, Griselda consists of flagship artists such as his brother Conway The Machine, cousin Benny The Butcher, Mach-Hommy and in-house producer Daringer. With the group’s individual albums having titles such as Stabbed and Shot or Roses are Red… So is Blood, there’s no doubt that Griselda members have a couple of stories to tell.
When Conway The Machine announced his first ever UK show for the beginning of April upon the release of his new album, I was thrilled. It wasn’t until a few days before the show when I was met with an email from Ticketmaster saying that his show was cancelled due to "immigration issues" at the UK border when he had just been in and around Europe quite literally the night before. When Benny The Butcher announced his tour shortly after, fans bought tickets with wariness because we knew that he had previous run-ins with the police. Holding on with only our ticket confirmations and hope, it wasn’t really that surprising when yet another disappointing Ticketmaster email eventually came through and Benny tweeted that he would not be entering the UK because of "old F.B.I reports and a new felony charge".
Lil Wayne, one of the most famous rappers to come from out of the US, was recently denied entry last minute into the UK this year when he was supposed to headline Cambridge’s Strawberries & Creem festival. With his visa application rejected by the UK Home Office because of a weapons charge in December 2020, the Home Office also released a statement that said, "Any individual who has been sentenced to a custodial sentence of 12 months or more must have their application refused".
I guess that’s fair enough. But what’s really the likelihood of a Grammy-award-winning rapper who has been making music since 1999, causing trouble in Cambridge? It led to a lot of speculation on social media about whether there might have been something more to it. Cases like this remind me of the infamous banning of rapper Tyler, The Creator (Tyler Okonma) who was refused entry into the UK for five years because of claims that his lyrics incited terrorism and violence.
It was in 2015 when the musician was banned and he tweeted, "Based on lyrics from 2009, I am not allowed in the UK for three-five years (although I was there eight weeks ago). That is why the shows were cancelled". The Home Office replied to this and said: "Coming to the UK is a privilege, and we expect those who come here to respect our shared values".
Alongside nationwide confusion due to Okonma having not committed any sort of crime previous to this, people were also perplexed as he had only been in the UK two months prior to this.
Being barred all of a sudden hit the Odd Future rapper personally. In a letter from the then-Home Secretary Teresa May, she stated that he "should be excluded from the UK on the grounds that your presence here would not be conducive to the public good", with comments stating that his 2009 album Bastard and 2011 album Goblin glamorised physical abuse, violence and murder as well as supporting homophobia and acts of terrorism. Five lines were shown to the rapper from Goblin including his most head-turning track 'Tron Cat'; it still remains unclear as to why these were singled out as they were tracks that he wrote when he was 18 and which he never performs. With the homophobic allegations against him looking pretty ridiculous as Okonma is himself openly gay, he voiced his frustration and also mentioned that he was surprised by the length of the ban. "But then I remembered – I’m dark-skinned, so, ahh, all right, I get it," he said.
Rapper Eminem’s (Marshall Mathers) huge success came after his signing with Dr. Dre in 1999, and he attracted mainstream popularity. With his early work known to be controversial, he represented the angst of the American underclass and has referenced his ex-wife Kim Mathers 12 times in his songs. On his The Slim Shady LP, he details multiple different ways that he would kill her as well as their ongoing feud and turbulent relationship.
On '97 Bonnie & Clyde', he mentioned how he would dump Kim’s body in a lake, and on the track 'Kim', he documents her infidelity and his inner urge to murder her for it.
In 'What’s The Difference', the rapper goes into detail again about killing Kim and propping her body up in the front seat of a car and driving around with it.
In his most controversial song 'Kill You', he uses derogatory words towards women, calling them sluts and whores, mentions strangling and killing women, raping his mother and uses homophobic slurs, all in one track.
Although Lynne Cheney, the soon-to-be Second Lady of the United States, voiced her opposition to the track at the time, and it was brought up in discussion before the United States Congress in an examination of the entertainment industry’s practices, nothing was really done about it.
In his non-fiction book Angry Blonde which critically analyses several of his songs, he states that 'Kill You' is a track that shouldn’t be taken seriously because he didn’t have anything else to rap about.
"The song is ridiculous… It’s kind of like you could say whatever you want as long as you say you’re joking at the end. Which is cool ‘cause that’s what I do… The whole idea of this song was to say some of the most fucked-up shit. Just to let people know that I’m back. That I didn’t lose it."
Although Mathers has apologised for a lot of the things he has said in his songs, it doesn’t really give him the green light to be treated any differently to someone like Tyler, The Creator who also has no ill intentions. But Mathers does have a history of physical violence and was charged with carrying a concealed weapon without a licence as well as assault with a deadly weapon against a nightclub bouncer who he thought kissed his then-wife Kim.
I'm not saying that we should drag up every single thing that a person has done when reviewing if they can enter the UK; I'm not really into cancel culture. And we understand that laws have changed since the 2000s, but it's becoming evidently clear that there's some sort of pattern emerging here in the UK Border Control system.