© 2023 Peoria Public Radio
A joint service of Bradley University and Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
WCBU is undergoing major tech upgrades which could cause interruptions in our streams. Thank you for your patience.

Peoria hip-hop duo counters 'drill music' with message of prevention

Joe Couri and Warith Muhammad are behind the "Don't Start" initiative.
Courtesy Don't Start
Joe Couri and Warith Muhammad are behind the "Don't Start" initiative.

A Peoria hip-hop duo is concerned about the influence of "drill music" on the city's youth. So they're counterbalancing that subgenre with their own message.

Warith Muhammad said drill music's lyrics not only glorifies violence and drug usage, but retaliation, too. As a member of Peoria Mayor Rita Ali's S-NET group, he's seen plenty of young people with guns bragging on social media about their deeds - and what that leads to.

Muhammad and Joe Couri are the musicians behind "Don't Start." It began when the pair crossed paths at a local recording studio, and an idea from the ELITE program's Carl Cannon to reach out to youth in a way that connects with them.

"Today's language of the youth is hip hop," said Muhammad.

"You'd be surprised how much kids are yearning for high intensity, good hip hop music that isn't telling them to go kill somebody or telling them to go do drugs, which in their whole fiber know that these things are wrong, but it's like, well, they're doing it. Everybody's making it seem like it's cool," he said.

Unlike the old "Don't Shoot" program focused on reaching out to people already involved in dangerous or potentially deadly activities, "Don't Start" is centered around reaching kids before they start down the wrong path.

"Our message to the youth is don't start gang activity, drug abuse, guns, bullying, vaping any other act cigarettes any other activity that's potentially destructive and dangerous to their health, and in the health of the community," Couri said.

"We teach the kids to don't start at all with these hardcore drugs, don't start with gang violence, because once you join a gang, sometimes it's nearly impossible to get out. Half the time it's, you have to...death, you know, is the only way out," Muhammad said. "So if you don't join a gang, then you don't have to worry about getting out of gangs. So don't start. It's all about prevention."

Muhammad and Couri take "Don't Start" to area schools. One frequent question they ask students is whether they know what Percocet is. The prescription painkiller is referenced heavily in a popular rap song.

"Almost every hand in the building goes up. And then we ask them how many know what's in it? And none of them knows, and when we tell them it's synthetic heroin, you should see their faces like 'what, what? Oh, no. Oh, what heroin? I don't want to do heroin,' because they know what heroin is and they know it's not a drug that anybody wants to be addicted to," Muhammad said. "So it's just about showing the realities of what our our youth are facing today in society."

Couri said he and Muhammad have spoken to about 3,000 kids over the past few years, but part of their message is for adults.

"When you're in the car driving, you know, if you're rapping along with, with rappers doing these negative messages, negative connotations in their music, and your kid's in the backseat, they're thinking that this must be okay, because Dad's listening to it. So it must be okay," he said.

Couri said one grandfather told him that once he realized what was actually in the lyrics of the rap music he was listening to, he switched to country music for the sake of his grandkids.

"It's sad though, that you know, a person have to go to a whole 'nother genre of music, just to have options. And that's what 'Don't Start' gives them -options in hip hop," said Muhammad. "We encourage kids listen to all different types of music, you know, expand your horizon. You know, don't just stay stuck in the box on gangsta rap or drill."

The pair are in talks to potentially take their music to a larger national stage. But Muhammad said he also hopes to influence other musicians to follow their course.

"That would be phenomenal if other artists were inspired to change their music, change their content, you know, keep the hot beats, keep the hot choruses, just change the content of the message of your music," he said. "I tell people all the time, you could talk about drugs, you could talk about violence, because these are a reality of what we face in the real world. We're not just going 'oh, yeah, we're skipping through dandelions all day.' No, that's not the real world. But don't glorify it. Let's not make it like this is cool to the kids."

We depend on your support to keep telling stories like this one. You – together with donors across the NPR Network – create a more informed public. Fact by fact, story by story. Please take a moment to donate now and fund the local news our community needs. Your support truly makes a difference.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.