08 Jan Babz discusses how he helps young people avoid crime and co-hosting ‘Blacklisted UK’ podcast
Even if all the relevant bodies had all the money they needed to tackle crime, there’s still no guarantee they would know what to do with it. Crime is an area where money alone can’t fix things, expertise and understanding is equally, if not more important, but there aren’t enough people with the necessary skills to evoke change.
Siddiq, better known as ‘Babz’, represents one such person in a strong position to help others steer clear of crime, because not too long ago, he was a young criminal embarking on a wrong path:
“I was just on the roads. Typical black boy, council estate, single parent household. I subconsciously made decisions that I thought was right at the time. I didn’t really have hope of being anything more than just a gangster.”
Since 2003, Babz has spent time in jail and caught a few cases, but since receiving a not guilty verdict and being acquitted of an ammunition charge in 2014, he has steered cleared of the law and instead spent his time trying to prevent people making the same errors he did.
Leaving prison is a slippery slope and can go can both ways. People often leave only to return weeks or even days later. Equally, some turn their life around after being imprisoned, so which one was it for Babz?
“That’s how it is. It’s quick. One of my close friends, who I was in prison with, he got out a few months before me, and a couple man I met in prison came out two weeks after. So there was four of us, now free, within a matter of weeks. We were living in our little bubble. Coming home late, waking up late. I hardly saw daylight. I kinda kept that prison mentality because I didn’t really face the real world until they started dropping off, going back to prison and what not, then that made me see that I needed to face the reality of being out.”
With the job market serving his ‘oyster’ and a mechanism to blackball him in the job market due to his time inside, how did Babz get involved with gang intervention work?
“Certain things began to play in my conscience, so I decided to get a job. But I didn’t want to get a job that didn’t allow me to be myself, so I hollered at someone and he told me to go his supported housing organisation. I was supposed to just be in an office, but I ended up becoming a support worker where I’m dealing with clients. I noticed that a lot of the clients were coming from a gang background, so I kinda created a position of being a gang intervention officer.
“I was the only person with the most knowledge of what’s going on in the streets. It started off with me trying to protect them. When people come out of prison or their vulnerable, we house them. But a lot of the clients that were coming, are gang members. I realised that the system in place wasn’t exactly the best system for them. I’m seeing things that could be potentially risky, e.g. you might need to be housed somewhere else, because you’re from this area or that area. That’s missing in this kinda field, so it only made sense that I became a gang intervention officer.”
He then elaborated further about how his expertise is used to help steer people away from trouble:
“I don’t try to preach to them, I just want them to feel like they’ve got options and a safety net. Just for them to see that there’s options, that they can actually leave that life alone, and with a bit of time and patience, you actually lead a normal life when you’re earning a regular income. You can’t just tell people to leave the roads because they aint got no money, so it don’t make sense. You have to give them an alternative to help them to make money, and that’s what I try to do. I know I can’t save everyone, I’m not even trying to do that, but I want people to see the reality of the life they’re living.”
A report from the Home Office in 2003 suggested the underlying causes of crime in the UK was a lack of money and social exclusion. We don’t need a report to highlight the obvious, but what’s sticks out here is the fact those two supposed crucial driving forces, appeared to have worsened years later.
There are over 2000 food banks in operation in the UK. One in five people admitted to being homeless for at least a month. A report from the BBC in 2016 suggested that knife crime was on the up, but police say most people caught carrying a blade have no gang affiliation. Things are becoming more lawless wherever you look, so I asked Babz what he feels are the underlying causes behind young people venturing into crime.
“The biggest factors are lack of money, lack of opportunity and a culture of crime that’s been accepted by us in our community. We accept everything as long as there’s money involved, and that’s a big problem, because morals and integrity aren’t there anymore. Most communities have always had a funny relationship with criminals. Every community loves a Robin Hood type, but then, some communities will stop at a man selling drugs to kids, whereas our community, the black community, everything goes.”
One thing that remains consistent is that people involve themselves with crime also write off their chances of doing anything but from a young age. Often young males might grow up with aspirations to realise careers as lawyers, doctors or teachers, but before long, they render their chances of achieving such things obsolete. How do we go about restoring that dearth of self-belief among young people?
“Collectively, we have a collective lack of confidence. I wouldn’t even just say the black community, but I’d say young people in inner-city London too. The problem is, the heroes that we have, the people that are glorified, are not the people doing the best jobs. Doctors, lawyers, where are they in the media? We don’t see them representing us.
“It’s hard to aspire to something that you can’t visualise, if we see more of them, in the public eye, that look like us and come from our background, and we see the quality of life that they’re enjoying, many more kids would aspire to be like that. but the problem is, the richest black people we are shown, are celebrities. They’re rap stars, they’re footballers, so the representation for those types of jobs is not there. You just aspire to what you see. A lot of kids would rather become a musician than a doctor.”
As Babz alludes to, musicians provide one of few routes to success that are deemed realistic, so I asked him how he views the relationship between entertainment and crime.
“It’s a difficult question. If you take away music, there will always be crime. When music was all about romance and love, there was still gangsters out there bussin’ their gun. That never stopped. Rap music came as a reflection of what was going on in the streets. It was art imitating life. But right now, the lines are blurring where life is imitating art. A lot of the kids out there are growing up, let’s say the drill era, the 12 year olds, the 13 year olds, they’re picking up a lot of drill culture, so for them, I’d say music is playing a big part in their activities.
“But I wouldn’t say music is the driving force off the streets, because without music, there’s still going to be a crime. In the late 1990s, UK rap wasn’t really about, but there’s still gang violence. The music is making it more obvious, sending shots online, talking about their enemies in their music. And yes, some young impressionable minds will pick up on certain things. But I feel that if you’re already criminally-inclined, it’ll amplify it. I wouldn’t say it’s a catalyst, but an amplifier.”
Growing up in South East London, there were youth clubs locally and across the capital that filled an important role, from pool tournaments to simply providing a space to for young people to hang out. They were appreciated by many. I went to two mainly, one in lower Sydenham and one near Anerley station. Neither of those places exist anymore, as more than 600 youth centres have been shut down across the UK since 2012, adding to an estimated £380m budget cut to youth service spending.
Put simply, if you’re broke and from certain parts of inner city London, there really isn’t much to do. In those situations, it’s easier to be drawn to motives that fill your time, legal or not. More youth clubs wouldn’t decrease crime rates in isolation, but supportive infrastructure provided by the government would provide a better alternative for many. So how much more should authorities be doing to prevent young people venturing into crime?
“They play an important role, but I don’t feel they’re doing anything on grass-roots levels. I said this on my podcast before, whenever I was out there causing trouble, if we buck up with another group of people, you’d often see someone you went youth club with. That alone can stop a lot of trouble. ‘Nah I used to play football with him, we went youth club together’. Youth clubs help to create that feeling of ‘I’ve seen your face before back when there was no trouble’, and it brings an affinity. But now, these kids, some of them are seeing each other for the first time on YouTube. They live in the same borough, but the first time they see each other, is online. Back when we had play centres and summer projects, you often meet people from other areas or places that you could end up beefing if you didn’t know them.”
Besides youth work, Babz is also a member of ‘Blacklisted Podcast’, a popular show hosed by himself, Uncle Redz and Eeshmatic. The podcast provides a frank outlook on current issues and has since accumulated more than 125,000 listens since its inception in early 2017.
“With Blacklisted [Podcast], I was just doing my thing. Obviously, I know Keith Dube from 3Shots, he’s known from when I was doing music and what not, so we’ve had a good friendship over the years. Sometimes we’d talk on WhatsApp, but I’m not a man to always type, type, type, so I’d send voice notes. But some of the voice notes would end up in his WhatsApp group, and his people would be telling him that I speak a lot of sense and to get me on his podcast. When he told me about a podcast, I was like ‘na man, that’s dead. I’ve never listened to a podcast in my life’.
“But I ended up going in, didn’t think nothing of it, then couple days later, he sent me a screenshot of the hashtag with my name beside it, and the comments were good. Did it a few more times and people were calling for me to have my own podcast. So I was a bit nervous then, because I didn’t really want to put myself out there like that. But I consulted my friends and asked for their honest opinion, and they all gave positive feedback. Funnily enough, us three would literally sit and talk about any and everything, so it was only right that those were the ones I did it with.”
Before podcasting, Babz first made his name in music, playing an influential role in the formation of Section Boyz:
“Basically, Swift is the nephew of my close friend, Ghost. He was already in a group called ‘SQUEEZE4PEEZE’, so it was me and Ghost, and he kept saying his nephew, Swift can rap. It was Swfit and Deepee. Ghost was more guiding them at the beginning stages, these times it was just Swift, Deepee, KNine started coming through and they were called ‘SqueezeSection’. It’s more Ghost’s baby. Ghost changed the name to Section Boyz, and it took off.
“A lot of people don’t know. We’re not really tryna put anyone down, but at the same time, I’m in the industry, I manage artists, I need to get my credit, where my credit’s due. I didn’t specifically create them, Ghost did that, but I was involved in the whole process. As a result of that, Chris Brown rang me directly to get the link to do the mixtape with them.
“My cousin is over in America and he’s close with Chris Brown, so I sent him their music about two years before, but he didn’t even reply to the message. But then he messaged out the blue and asked if I’m still with them, but I said ‘it’s a bit funny right now’. He said CB wants to sort something out with them. I was like ‘who’s CB?’, my cousin was like ‘CB, CB, CB’. Then Breezy’s come on the phone, this is about 4am, he was like ‘yo, we need to sort something out’. I gave him Swifts’ number and told Swift.’
Babz then explains how he’s worked in different capacities in the UK music scene, including managing artists, recommending signees to others and helping people connect to where they need to go:
“Since I’ve been in the industry, the links have come towards me, I haven’t gone out of my way to chase anything. I was on a European tour with Lil Wayne this year, me and H Moneda. When Chris Brown was on tour last year in the UK, I was on tour with him. But both times, I didn’t ask to be on these tours.
“People don’t know I do a lot of different things. Some people box me in with the Pathwaze stuff, or the Blacklisted [Podcast] stuff, but it’s probably the music side of things where I get the most work done. I’ve made a lot of things happen that I haven’t got credit for in this industry. I’ve recommended people to get signed, and they’ve got signed. In fact, there’s a signed artist in the lounge waiting for me. He got signed to Sony the other day. Me and Keith sorted that out for him. So things happen, but I’m not one to toot my own horn. I just keep quiet a lot of the time, but at the same time, it would be nice to get some recognition for the work I’ve put in.”
Find out more about Babz’ work here: