The rapper and activist Lowkey calls out the government over the Grenfell tragedy

Rapper Lowkey talking to the media
Steve Topple

The rapper and political activist Lowkey has spoken out once again about the Grenfell Tower tragedy. In a wide-ranging interview, he says that Grenfell happened because the interests of corporations trump those of the public, even in matters of life and death.

A worldwide voice

Lowkey rose to prominence in 2009, with the release of his first album Dear Listener. A British-Iraqi born in London, he was rapping from an early age and was noticed after putting out a series of mixtapes. But Dear Listener propelled him onto a worldwide stage. He’s played at festivals and concerts in the UK and around the world.

But the Grenfell Tower fire on 14 June 2017, in which 71 people were killed, has always hit a particularly raw nerve with Lowkey. So, in an interview with the current affairs programme Going Underground, he discusses the politics of the tragedy. The full programme will be broadcast at 2:30pm and 9:30pm on 14 April on RTUK. It is also available on Going Underground‘s YouTube channel, here.

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“Death traps”

Lowkey begins by discussing what he calls the “weakening” of building regulations which led to dangerous cladding being installed on Grenfell Tower. As BBC News reported, the cladding on the block failed to meet the necessary fire safety standards back in 2014. But no action was taken. Across the country, cladding on 294 buildings have now failed government flammability tests. Lowkey says that this “weakening” of regulations means:

People are sleeping in death traps. The point is… you’re seeing an attempt to obfuscate blame. So you’re seeing the government on one hand saying its because of the way that these companies have interpreted the building regulations. Then on the other hand you have a situation where local government have kind of been converted into conduits of corporate power.

Lowkey’s interview coincides with the ‘silent march’ he mentions in the discussion. It happens on the 14 of every month, to remember those killed in the fire. Details can be found here.

Vested interests

The rapper then discussed with host Afshin Rattansi why he believes building regulations are so lapse. Rattansi put it to him that:

There is a separation here between those advising the government on building regulations and the manufacturers isn’t there?

Lowkey was unequivocal in his response:

Of course there’s not… If I’m advising you on how to regulate the industry which I’m a representative of, I’m going to advise you based on my interests.

A report [pdf] by Dame Judith Hackitt into building regulations was published in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire. It highlighted what Lowkey alluded to. The report noted [pdf, p101] that regarding building regulations and the inspection process, stakeholders had expressed:

Concerns that increased privatisation reduces the independence of the review process and leads to a decreasing capacity and expertise in local authorities. There are notable concerns also that third-party inspections are open to abuse given the potential conflict of interests, with growing levels of mutual dependence between developers and contracted inspectors.

Corporations: the only winners

The rapper then went on to conclude that the Grenfell Tower tragedy encapsulated a shift towards corporate power trumping human rights. He said, in no uncertain terms:

What we’re seeing is… local government and national government converted… into.. tools, really, of corporate power… John Weeks calls it the ‘re-regulation’, not deregulation, re-regulation in the interests of capital against the interests of the human.

It’s hard to disagree with Lowkey’s point that the interests of the rich and corporations are being prioritised over the lives of people.

The real tragedy of Grenfell is that it took 71 people dying for the country to notice was has been going on right under our noses. Whether anything changes in its wake remains to be seen. But people like Lowkey seem determined that it will.

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Featured image via Going Underground – screengrab and videos courtesy of Going Underground

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