Last weekend, YouTube took down the video for Bronx rapper Sha Gz’s song “New Opp.” The original upload surged as high as #11 on YouTube’s worldwide trending list before it was removed over an alleged community guidelines violation. In a since-expired Instagram story post, Gz posted a screenshot of YouTube informing him that his video contained “content that features a minor participating in a dangerous activity that poses a risk of bodily injury.”
“We removed the video in question for violating our Child Safety policies, which prohibit showing minors involved in dangerous activities, like using a controlled substance such as nicotine,” a YouTube spokesman said in a statement to Rolling Stone. The 17-year-old Sha Gz is seen smoking in the first 10 seconds of the video and continues throughout the visual. YouTube added, “Anyone is allowed to publish content on YouTube as long as they follow our Community Guidelines, which apply equally for everyone.”
Gz, a buzzing Bronx drill artist known for his track “Rosa,” tells Rolling Stone that YouTube didn’t reference smoking in their replies to him. He previously told outlet Cam Capone news that he thought the video was removed for violent lyrics and that “someone from a label” may have flagged it. “They emailed me, they told me to do an appeal, they told me why then they took it down,” he explains on the phone. “I reuploaded it again, it got 100,000 views in two days, and they took it down [Thursday],” Sha says he won’t be trying to upload the video for the third time. “I re-uploaded it two times. I tried my best,” he says, emphasizing that “this is one of my viral, viral videos.” He originally thought the removal
Gz’s is the latest trending music video from New York City’s drill scene to be removed from YouTube for policy violations. Artists in the genre have long used the service as the primary platform to upload music videos. In addition, teenage listeners use YouTube more than other DSPs, giving its trending list a status similar to a high-profile Spotify or Apple Music playlist. YouTube is currently the primary forum for the burgeoning New York drill scene, but current dynamics have made the service less reliable.
Bronx rapper Kyle Richh’s “Notti Bop” song spurred controversy this fall, as the song was a diss toward Ethan Reyes, aka rapper Notti Osama, a 14-year-old fatally stabbed at a Harlem subway station last summer. The song’s accompanying Notti Bop dance simulates stabbing, a callous mockery of what happened to Reyes. The “Notti Bop” video accrued millions of YouTube views, while the dance went viral on TikTok, with many dancers unaware of the Notti Bop’s dark origins. After a deluge of critical press and social media backlash, the video was removed from YouTube due to a copyright claim by Sony, who owns the rights to the Backyardigans theme sampled in the song. It’s also worth noting that Notti’s brother, buzzing rapper DD Osama, is signed to Sony subsidiary Alamo Records.
In late 2021, Brooklyn rapper Bizzy Banks released “Still Into You,” becoming one of several drill artists who jumped on the Paramore-sampling beat. But Bizzy’s version of the track attracted too much attention and was taken down over a copyright claim (as were other highly-viewed videos of artists rapping over the beat).
These removals represent a quandary for artists exploring so-called sample drill and exemplify the challenges of relying on tech platforms to house creative scenes. YouTube boasts over 2.6 billion subscribers, but its content team isn’t as straightforward as it could be about its policy standards. In September 2020, YouTube published a blog post explaining that artistic content such as music videos are privy to their “Educational, Documentary, Scientific or Artistic,” or EDSA exception. “Sometimes videos that might otherwise violate our policies may be allowed to stay on YouTube if the content offers a compelling reason with visible context for viewers. We often refer to this exception as ‘EDSA,’” the post says. But the exception isn’t a free pass to violate their guidelines under the guise of art. The blog post also notes, “These decisions are nuanced, and context is important. And we know it can be tricky for creators and viewers to understand why one video stays up while another is taken down.”
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Many of the young producers and artists in the New York drill scene don’t have the connections or capital to clear the samples they use, which means their potentially star-making videos are at risk of being taken down at any time. Sha Gz isn’t the first minor to smoke in a music video, but “New Opps” was nevertheless flagged multiple times. “I don’t like videos being taken down,” Sha says. “Before you post something, they ask you to [click] ‘yes it’s for kids’ or ‘no it’s not.’ I picked ‘no,’ but I don’t know why they took my video down like that.”
Last February, New York Mayor Eric Adams sparked outrage by suggesting that YouTube had a “civic and corporate” responsibility to police drill music videos. “We pulled Trump off Twitter because of what he was spewing. Yet we are allowing music [with] displaying of guns, violence. We allow this to stay on the sites,” he said. Now, YouTube is scrutinizing the very scene he called out. It could be a mere coincidence, but it could also be a precursor for the future of New York drill heading into 2023.