World-renowned UK garage music MC Champagne Bubblee, who launched the charity Knife Crime Victim Support earlier this year, speaks exclusively to Celebrate:MK’s Jon Boyle about Milton Keynes’ growing problem of gangs and knife crime.
The former drug dealer – who was stabbed multiple times during a fight in Northampton – explains why youths join gangs, how MK can tackle the problem, plus his work in giving talks and reforming offenders.
Having performed with the likes of Stormzy, Wiley and Lethal B as one of the UK’s best garage MCs, Champagne Bubblee is someone who earns instant respect from the younger generation of today.
Combine that with the fact he is a reformed drug dealer, gang affiliate and convict who has been the victim of knife crime himself, and it is no wonder that schools and police forces across the country are clambering to book him up to talk to their youngsters about the pitfalls of gang life.
A Freedom of Information request by the BBC to all 43 regional police forces in England and Wales has uncovered a 90% rise in knife crime in Milton Keynes over the last two years. The rise is higher than London and makes MK one of the top three fastest growing areas for knife crime.
Milton Keynes Council has begun the fightback by launching a new task force aimed at tackling knife crime in the city.
And Champagne Bubblee, who runs the charity Knife Crime Victim Support and teaches creative writing to ex-gang members at Lisa Lashes School of Music in Northampton, is offering to lend his expertise to MK’s cause.
The legendary MC, real name Quinton Green, lives just 20 miles from Milton Keynes and spoke passionately for an hour-and-a-half to Celebrate:MK about the growing culture of gangs and knife crime in MK and beyond.
He explained one of the main problems is that many youths in gangs don’t think that stabbing a person – or being stabbed themselves – is a big deal.
“Many youngsters are so desensitised nowadays to the act of stabbing someone multiple times,” he said. “It’s not a shock to them and there are youngsters out there who have seen two, three or four of their friends killed.
“These youths think it’s almost cool to get stabbed too. I was in hospital for a week at the age of 19 after being stabbed multiple times in a fight in Northampton on New Year’s Eve and, when I got out, we had a massive party to celebrate me getting my ‘battle scars’. Looking back now it was really immature but when you’re in the thick of it, it really does feel like nothing. It’s a ridiculous mindset.”
Quinton went on to explain a worrying new trend he has seen developing over the years. “Back when I was young you stood more of a chance because they were stabbing you to maim,” he said.
“The guy who stabbed me basically peppered me with short, sharp stabs in my back, stomach and my arm after we had met up for a fight over a girl who had been playing us both off.
“But now the youngsters are stabbing to kill with huge ‘Rambo’ zombie knives with serrated edges – they feel like they have to make sure the victim can’t come back to seek retribution.”
New postcoded gangs have emerged across Milton Keynes in recent years, using social media to taunt each other in home-made ‘drill’ music videos.
Quinton believes drill music – which is a new, more aggressive form of grime – is playing a significant role in influencing youngsters to join gangs and partake in knife crime.
“A lot of these youngsters are into drill music and all the videos they are seeing online glamorise violence,” he said. “For me, drill is a poster campaign for gang recruitment, because what they are rapping about is real.
“What some of the gangs are doing now is wearing balaclavas in their videos and goading other gangs by gloating about criminal activities – and even murders – they’ve committed on their patch.
“For example, they say things like ‘we went onto the opps block (which is short for opposition) and stabbed up someone, and what did you do about it? Nothing, we’re still here’.
“Youngsters are now being pushed by things they see on YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat.”
Quinton went on: “Even younger children are now being influenced by what they see on social media from drill artists, who are often involved in gangs and drugs.
“If you’ve got an 11 or 12 year old kid, Instagram is his window to the world. He’s not being fed with the Instagram account of an architect, a solicitor or a builder. You can tailor-make your own timeline really, so he is being fed imagery of drug dealers and people with cash, cars, knives, jewellery and women, and he will aspire to that. He might have footballers on his timeline too but where are the other positive role models?”
Quinton knows all too well how gang life can appear a glamorous way out for youths living in poverty, in particular. He said: “It’s a dangerous guy who hasn’t got anything to lose, who doesn’t feel valued and feels like he hasn’t got a voice, options or the opportunity to progress.
“Lots of these youngsters find it difficult to read and write, so what are their prospects? “If your only choice is to continue in poverty like your parents, then you see a guy outside in his brand new Mercedes playing his tunes and attracting girls, with all the gold chains and swagger, and he’s coming up to you saying ‘I’ll buy you a pair of trainers if you hold this for me’.
“Then next week he says ‘I’ll give you £600 if you drop this off in Peterborough, then the next week he says ‘I’ll give you a grand if you put that gun under your mattress’, it’s tempting.
“That’s almost cancerous in the UK at the minute.” So what can be done to stamp out the rising gang culture in Milton Keynes?
Quinton offered his solution: “Early intervention is one of the main things that can help – preventative measures and preventative education is the key.
“I go down to year 10 and 11 in schools to help change their mindset and give them aspirations and ambition. If you think of your average 17 year old in a gang, if he’s in the thick of it, it’s very hard for them to desist and engage in transformative behaviour.
“They aren’t a lost cause in any way, shape or form, because I work with disaffected youngsters sent to us by Northamptonshire Police (CIRV) on a daily basis at Lisa Lashes School of Music, teaching them MCing, songwriting, poetry, biography writing and CV writing alongside other world-renowned musicians.
“And it’s working – they’ve seen that I’ve been on tour with Stormzy, rapped with Wiley, and I’m practising what I preach as an MC at weekends, so it’s something for them to possibly aspire to. “It’s an early representation of what could be rolled out across the country.
“But if you reach the youngsters before they join a gang then possibly we’d be in a situation where we wouldn’t have that situation developing further down the line, if we can teach them to value life.”
Alongside his important work reforming offenders on the 12-week modules at Lisha Lashes School of Music, Quinton travels the country giving talks on knife crime – which he says is his calling in life – after setting up Knife Crime Victim Support.
He explained: “I feel like this is my calling as the idea to set up the group came to me in a dream on New Year’s Eve last year!
“In the dream, Idris Elba was working in a book store and he said to me ‘I’ve seen your knife crime stuff, if you need any help I’d be happy to get involved’.
“Now Idris is one of the most prominent anti-knife crime campaigners and I’ve since had my poetry published in a book by UNICEF/Wordsby___.
“Also, my ringtone was a Biggie Smalls track and while I was doing an interview with a Christian radio show about how I set up the charity, my phone rang saying ‘it was all a dream’. It was profound!
“I want to be the voice for mothers who have lost their sons and gang members who have desisted from that way of life. I do public speaking engagements at knife crime rallies, community centres, schools and for a few police forces.
“The police know I have a bit of a background myself but their stance is that it’s never too late to change. I’m a prime example of transformative behaviour so I possibly build a better rapport with the youngsters than a 55-year-old middle class teacher would, and get more of a response.
“I understand the youngsters’ dialect and on the one hand I can tell them about the realities of prison, but I can also tell them about what it’s like to support some of UK rap’s biggest stars including Sneakbo, Yungen and Giggs.”
And Quinton, who also performs poetry addressing social issues as his alter ego Mr Milise (@whoismrmilise on Instagram), revealed he would be happy to help out with educating the younger generation in Milton Keynes, as he has done in many other towns and cities.
He said: “I haven’t been asked by Thames Valley Police to do anything with them yet, but I would love to if they were interested, and the same goes for Milton Keynes schools and colleges.
“I’ve given talks in Northampton, Stevenage, Bedford, London, Liverpool, Middlesbrough, Sheffield and more, but not in MK yet.
“I’m ready for it as I’ve just invested in a projector screen too! I’ve got used to turning up at places and their projector screen letting me down, or there being no sound or the angle being wrong, but things should run seamlessly now!
“And I would like to appeal to any businesses in Milton Keynes who can offer apprenticeships or any kind of opportunity to our students to get in touch with me too, whether it is in plumbing, building, decorating or anything – they just need a chance.”
If you would like to get in touch with Quinton – either for support, to book him for a talk, or if you may have an opportunity for his students – email firstname.lastname@example.org.