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The battle for London's teenagers

  • Story Highlights
  • Gun and knife crime in London has been dominating the headlines
  • Urban Concepts believes hip hop can calm the violence on London's streets
  • Organization formed by UK government Home Office
  • They have released a collaborative record, "Don't Trigger,"
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By David Tanklefsky
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Michelle Forbes' son Leon was an aspiring hip-hop musician when he was shot and killed near his home in South London at the age of 21.

"When I lost Leon a huge part of my heart was ripped out and I'm not the same woman," says Forbes, 49. Following her son's death, she joined 'Mothers Against Guns,' just one of a number of anti-violence advocacy groups that collaborates with Urban Concepts, an organization that uses music and multimedia to promote a message -- that guns and knives in the hands of young people only leads to tragedy.

Urban Concepts' belief is that rhymes and pulsating hip-hop beats can serve as a call for calm on London's streets where in the last year gun and knife crime have been dominating the headlines.

The organization is funded by the UK Home Office. They receive expensive equipment pro bono from multimedia companies for projects such as making music videos.

Raymond Stevenson, director of Urban Concepts told CNN: "Music is the key to the problem (violence) ... it's the young people's Bible. It's how they get their information. It's how they get some of their negative information so we believe to counter the negative music that's out there, we should be entitled to give some more positivity back."

Stevenson and Urban Concepts have released "Don't Trigger," a collaborative record with tracks from a dozen London hip-hop artists including Fidel & Zola, Soul Deep, and MC Skibadee. The title track features a crunchy organ riff over a funky beat and the blunt lyrics: "Don't trigger/don't be dumb/because you're too young to die."

The message has resonance in London where the average age of a person murdered by gun violence is 19, according to the UK. Home Office. The number of gun injuries in England and Wales has more than doubled in the past decade and there were 3,500 gun incidents in London alone from August 2006 to August 2007. The need to get a message to those most vulnerable to gun and knife crime, young black teenagers, makes the work of Urban Concepts urgent.

Their first campaign in 2005 featured a music video called "Why", showing mothers who had lost children to gun violence. The video was aired on major music channels around the UK and watched by four million viewers.

Along with the "Don't Trigger" album, this year's campaign features "Hip Hop Opera," a 90-minute feature film on the futility of youth violence and the misery that follows it.

The music and videos produced by the "Don't Trigger" campaign are used by police services, probation services, schools, prisons, and youth clubs.


Stevenson knows that the fight to curb youth violence is a difficult one with many problems at its roots. The hope is that Urban Concepts reaches young people where they are most attentive; through music, videos, and in the language they speak in.

"Imagine if it was your child that was delivered to you in a body bag," Stevenson says. "Wouldn't you want the whole country to ... support you in your loss?" He says "Don't Trigger" is a way for people to become part of that support and a means of finding solutions to one of society's most troubling problems. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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