|Cultural origins||Early 2010s, Chicago, United States|
|Typical instruments||Roland TR-808|
|Derivative forms||Mumble rap|
Drill progressed into the American mainstream in mid-2012 following the success of rappers and producers like Young Chop, Chief Keef, Lil Durk, Fredo Santana and Lil Reese who had many local fans and a significant Internet presence. Media attention and the signing of drill musicians to major labels followed. Artists within the genre have been noted for their style of lyricism and association with crime in Chicago.
A regional subgenre UK drill emerged in London particularly in the district of Brixton beginning in 2012. UK drill rose to prominence by the mid-2010s and has influenced other regional scenes such as Australian, Spanish, Irish, Italian, Dutch and New York drill.
The lyrics of drill tend to be violent and very gritty. The Guardian's Lucy Stehlik said "nihilistic drill reflects real life where its squeaky-clean hip-hop counterparts have failed." Drill lyrics strongly contrast with the subject matter of earlier Chicago rappers and contemporary mainstream hip hop which at the time of drill's emergence tended to glorify and celebrate a rise to wealth.
Drill lyrics typically reflect life on the streets, and tend to be gritty, violent, realistic and nihilistic. Drill rappers use a grim, deadpan delivery, often filtered through Auto-Tune, influenced by the "stoned, aimless warbling of Soulja Boy (one of the earliest non-local Keef collaborators) and Lil Wayne before him." Atlanta-based rappers Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame were important influences on the drill scene. Though it bears many similarities to trap music the speed of a drill beat is generally slower with a moderate tempo having about 60 to 70 beats per minute. Some producers work at double tempo such as 130 to 140 beats per minute.
Drillers tend to be young; many prominent musicians in the scene started getting attention while still in their teens. One of the genre's most prominent musicians, Chief Keef, was 16 when he signed a multi-million dollar record contract with Interscope, and in an extreme example, Lil Wayne co-signed the 13-year-old driller Lil Mouse. Critics have noted drill rappers' lack of concern with metaphor or wordplay. Chief Keef said that his simplistic flow is a conscious stylistic choice: "I know what I'm doing. I mastered it. And I don't even really use metaphors or punchlines. 'Cause I don't have to. But I could. ... I think that's doing too much. I'd rather just say what's going on right now. ... I don't really like metaphors or punchlines like that." What Moser wrote that Keef's songs are "lyrically, rhythmically [sic], and emotionally diminished, which is why they sound so airless and claustrophobic ... It's not even fatalistic, because that would imply a self-consciousness, a moral consideration, that isn't there in the lyrics. It just is, over and over again." A profile on the scene in The New York Times examined the genre's aggression:
With rare exception this music is unmediated and raw and without bright spots, focused on anger and violence. The instinct is to call this tough, unforgiving and concrete-hard music joyless, but in truth it's exuberant in its darkness. Most of its practitioners are young and coming into their creative own against a backdrop of outrageous violence in Chicago, particularly among young people—dozens of teenagers have been killed in Chicago this year—and often related to gangs. (There's a long history of overlap between Chicago’s gangs and Chicago’s rap.) That their music is a symphony of ill-tempered threats shouldn't be a surprise.
Female artists have been represented in the scene since its origins. Pitchfork's Miles Raymer said "instead of rapping about being a 'hitta'—the local term for a shooter—they rapped about being in love with hittas. Otherwise, they rode the same kind of icily sociopathic beats from the same producers as any other drill rappers, and came across as equally tough." Female drillers mix themes of violence and love in their songs, and Katie Got Bandz said, "It's different because males wouldn't expect a female to rap about drilling. They're used to females selling themselves."
Stehlik called drill production style the "sonic cousin to skittish footwork, southern-fried hip-hop and the 808 trigger-finger of trap." Young Chop is frequently identified by critics as the genre's most characteristic producer. The sound of trap producer Lex Luger's music is a major influence on drill, and Young Chop identified Shawty Redd, Drumma Boy, and Zaytoven as important precursors to drill.
David Drake of Complex said drill is not defined by any particular production style, but "is about the entirety of the culture: the lingo, the dances, the mentality, and the music, much of which originated in 'Dro City', a gang-defined territory of city blocks in the Woodlawn neighborhood."
In street slang, "drill" means to fight or retaliate, and "can be used for anything from females getting dolled up to all out war in the streets." Dro City rapper Pacman, considered the stylistic originator of the genre, is credited as the first to apply the term to the local hip hop music.
Drake described the drill scene as a major vehicle of the early 2010s rise of Chicago hip hop, and described the scene as a grassroots movement that had incubated in a closed, interlocking system: on the streets and through social media in a network of clubs and parties and amongst high schools." Drill developed on the South Side of Chicago, in the midst of escalating violence and a homicide crisis. Mark Guarino wrote for Salon that the music grew during "a shift from historic feuding between monolithic crime organizations controlling thousands of members each to intrapersonal squabbling and retaliatory conflicts among smaller hybrid groups whose control extends just a few blocks... The toughened reality of living in these neighborhoods is what shaped Drill music." In the drill scene, rap conflict and gang conflict overlap, and many of the young rappers come from backgrounds with experience of violence. The Independent's Sam Gould wrote that Chief Keef "represents both a scary strain of current hip hop culture and a seriously alienated group within American society."
By late 2012, rappers from other scenes and hip hop stars like Kanye West, Drake and Rick Ross were collaborating with drill musicians. Kanye West remixed "I Don't Like" for the 2012 GOOD Music compilation Cruel Summer as "Don't Like", with features from West, Chief Keef, Pusha T, Big Sean and Jadakiss. West cited drill as an influence on his 2013 album Yeezus, and Chief Keef and King Louie had vocals featured on the album.
Older Chicago rappers have been mixed in their reaction to drill's popularity and violence. In a radio interview, rapper Lupe Fiasco said "Chief Keef scares me. Not him specifically, but just the culture that he represents ... The murder rate in Chicago is skyrocketing, and you see who's doing it and perpetrating it—they all look like Chief Keef." After Chief Keef threatened Fiasco on Twitter, Fiasco said he was considering quitting the music scene. Rhymefest tweeted that drill is "the theme music to murder."
While drill music of Chicago fizzled out of mainstream popularity, a new scene was emerging in the UK and by the late-2010s was gaining mainstream popularity, spreading across Europe, influencing the creation of drill scenes around the continent. UK drill music evolved its own distinct style of production compared to Chicago drill. The mid 2010s saw the emergence of Chicago-influenced Brooklyn drill artists such as Bobby Shmurda and Rowdy Rebel, while the late 2010s saw the emergence of new prominent drill artists from Brooklyn such as Pop Smoke, Sheff G, Fivio Foreign, Sleepy Hallow and 22Gz.
Later Brooklyn drill production is heavily influenced by drill from the UK with artists such as Fivio Foreign, Sheff G, Smoove’L, Bizzy Banks and Pop Smoke collaborating with UK drill producers such as 808Melo, Yamaica Productions, Yoz Beats and AXL Beats. Pop Smoke's song "Welcome to the Party", produced by 808Melo was a prominent release in 2019 and saw remixes from Nicki Minaj, Meek Mill and British MC Skepta. Sheff G's "No Suburban" (released in 2017) and 22Gz's "Suburban" (released in 2016) have been credited for bringing attention to later Brooklyn drill.
UK drill is a subgenre of drill music and road rap that originated in the South London district of Brixton from 2012 onwards. Borrowing heavily from the style of Chicago drill music, UK drill artists often rap about violent and hedonistic criminal lifestyles. Typically, those who create this style of music are affiliated with gangs or come from socioeconomically-deprived neighborhoods where crime is a way of life for many. UK drill music is closely related to road rap, a British style of gangsta rap that became popular in the years prior to the existence of drill. Musically, UK drill often exhibits violent language and provocative lyrics.
150, a group from Angell Town Estate, Brixton, is often credited with pioneering UK drill music. 150 members Stizzy Stickz, Grizzy, M Dargg, and Perm being dedicated exponents of the early style, along with and mentored by former members of PDC. However, it's 67 that're often credited for shifting the sound away from Chicago influences it seemed to heavily draw inspiration from in its early days and foundation, and forming a more homegrown sound. Producers Carns Hill (who crafted instrumentals for many of 67's early songs), and QUIETPVCK (who worked closely by 150, 410, Uptop members in their early era) are widely considered to be two of the main pioneering producers of the genre with their unique and innovative alternatives to the Chicago Drill sound.
UK drill has developed a different production style than Chicago drill taking influence from earlier British genres such as grime and UK garage so much so that it has been called "the New Grime" and drill producer Carns Hill has commented that it needs a new name. However, Mazza, a UK drill producer, disagreed with the "new grime" label, maintaining that although drill and grime share the same energy, rawness, and originated in a similar fashion, the two genres are distinct in their own ways. UK drill is generally more fast-paced compared to its Chicago counterpart. Instrumentals often also have a sliding bass, hard hitting kicks, and dark melodies. AXL Beats explained that the 808's and fast-tempo snares are derivative of grime music. Both genres typically utilise a tempo of approximately 140 bpm.
Autotune, unlike American drill, is largely absent within UK drill with British drill artists utilising a much harsher and stripped-back delivery indebted to grime and earlier road rap. UK drill rappers have also taken on a more allusive, ironic lyrical style; taken on mainly because of the attention attracted from the mainstream media, and also the police; due to its previously much more brazen and direct nature.
Though a majority of UK drill artists hail from the capital (which can be attributed in part due to the much larger population of London, in comparison to other British cities), it is not restricted to London alone as the genres sole production hub in terms of emerging talents and dissemination of the sound. Artists around the country have appeared and become prominent creators within the scene, such as SmuggzyAce and S.White of Birmingham group "23 Drillas".
UK drill groups often engage in disputes with each other sometimes violent often releasing multiple disrespectful tracks. Notable disputes include Zone 2 versus Moscow 17, 150 versus 67, OFB/NPK versus WG/N9 and SMG versus 814 (a member of 814, Showkey, was stabbed to death in 2016 in an unrelated incident).
UK drill received widespread attention outside of Britain in 2017 when comedian Michael Dapaah released the novelty song "Man's Not Hot". The track samples a beat made by UK drill producers GottiOnEm and Mazza; it was first used by drill group 86 on its song "Lurk", and later 67 with "Let's Lurk" featuring Giggs.
Controversy and legal issues
The genre's violent lyrics have been cited by police, MPs, journalists and others in positions of potentially significant influence as the reason for a climb in the rate of knife crimes in London. In one instance, then 17-year-old rapper Junior Simpson, better known as M-Trap, who had written lyrics about knife attacks, was part of a four-person group that stabbed a 15-year-old boy to death, for which he received a life sentence. Judge Anthony Leonard QC told Simpson, "You suggested [the lyrics] were just for show but I do not believe that, and I suspect you were waiting for the right opportunity for an attack."
In May 2018, YouTube reported that it had deleted more than half of the "violent" music videos identified by senior police officers as problematic. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick blamed some videos for fuelling a surge in murders and violent crime in London, singling out drill music. YouTube said that more than 30 clips had been removed. The cause of the deletion of UK drill videos drive from a stop and search done on the West London gang 1011 (today known as CGM), where they were reported to be on a ride out to retaliate against the opposition. Banning drill caused outrage in the community and caused a slight lull in production of the music.
In 2018, FACT magazine stated in an article on UK drill producers M1OnTheBeat & MKThePlug:
..."Drill is this generation's furious response against the Conservative government's decimation of state support for the most vulnerable communities under austerity".
In late 2018, South London-born drill MC and aspiring Mayor of London Drillminister created a track called "Political Drillin" which was broadcast on Channel 4 News and used comments made by UK MPs attempting to highlight their own hypocrisy in using violent language.
UK drill has spread outside of the United Kingdom, with artists and groups in other countries rapping in styles and using slang terms heavily influenced by UK drill music, and using UK drill instrumentals produced by British producers. Ireland, the Netherlands, and Australia in particular have developed drill scenes that are heavily indebted to UK drill music, with artists such as OneFour in Australia, Chuks & J.B2 from Dublin, Ireland, and 73 De Pijp from The Netherlands. New York drill music began rising to prominence in the late 2010s. New York drill, primarily based in Brooklyn, has taken influence from UK drill with artists such as Pop Smoke, Sheff G, and 22Gz collaborating with UK drill producers such as AXL Beats, Yoz Beats, Ghosty, and 808Melo. 808Melo produced "Welcome to the Party" for Pop Smoke, which received a considerable amount of attention. Pop Smoke created a 9 track project produced entirely by 808 Melo and Trap House Mob (a team of UK based producers). Artists in Spain making drill music have also taken on influence by its British counterpart, with various references and similar production to UK drill.
Canadian musician Drake did a "Behind Barz" freestyle for Link Up TV in 2018 where he rapped over a UK drill beat. Drake also credited UK drill artist Loski as an influence for his 2018 album, Scorpion. In 2019, Drake released "War". The song used UK drill's production style and was produced by British producer AXL Beats. Drake's flow in both instances was reminiscent of UK drill artists.
Chart success and transition into mainstream
Unknown T's song "Homerton B" charted after its August 2018 release; and in doing so, became technically the first ever UK drill single to officially enter the charts. The song entered at number 83 on the Official Singles Chart Top 100 on 28 August 2018, then peaked at 48 in September 2018; putting him in the running with the likes of Drake, Travis $cott, Nicki Minaj & Eminem; world-renowned artists who also charted closely in this period, which was unheard of for a UK drill song at the time.
UK drill group 67 had two entries into the official charts, however unlike the Unknown T entry, this was the albums chart and not the singles chart. They reached number 66 in the Official Albums Chart with the mixtape Let's Lurk and number 71 with the mixtape The Glorious Twelfth. Although considered a predominantly trap based album which implements some drill features and elements, Section Boyz mixtape Don't Panic reached number 37 in the UK Albums Chart, later peaking at number 36 in 2015.
The above entries set off a snowball effect of UK drill song entries into the Official Singles Charts, and artists being propelled closer to the British mainstream. As the songs entered the charts, more people began to find out and talk about UK drill again, thus attracting new fans to the genre, and attracting both positive and negative media attention for various reasons, keeping the genre in the limelight, and bursting the bubble the genre was confined within. This also opened up drill to UK artists of other genres more, to begin rapping over drill style instrumentals and experimenting with sounds inside of the genre, as opposed to their usual styles.
In 2020, DigDat released Ei8ht Mile. The mixtape scored the biggest opening week of all time for a UK drill album. Tion Wayne and Russ Millions' song "Body" became the first UK drill song to reach number 1 on the UK Singles Chart in 2021.
Notable UK drill singles & albums charting in the Top 100 (between 2015–2020):
|Smoke Boys||Don't Panic||36||Album||1 October 2015|
|67||Let's Lurk||66||Album||22 September 2016|
|67||Glorious Twelfth||71||Album||27 July 2017|
|Loski||Call Me Loose||44||Album||26 April 2018|
|Headie One||The One Two||32||Album||5 July 2018|
|Unknown T||"Homerton B"||48||Single||6 September 2018|
|DigDat||"Air Force"||20||Single||27 September 2018|
|Smoke Boys||Don't Panic II||60||Album||1 November 2018|
|Russ Millions||"Gun Lean"||09||Single||3 January 2019|
|DigDat & Loski||"No Cap"||51||Single||28 February 2019|
|Loski||Mad Move||41||Album||14 March 2019|
|Russ Millions & Tion Wayne||"Keisha & Becky"||07||Single||4 April 2019|
|RV & Headie One||Drillers & Trappers 2||21||Album||4 April 2019|
|RV & Headie One||"Match Day"||86||Single||4 April 2019|
|Digga D||"No Diet"||20||Single||2 May 2019|
|Hardy Caprio & DigDat||"Guten Tag"||18||Single||16 May 2019|
|Digga D||Double Tap Diaries||11||Album||30 May 2019|
|Digga D||"P4DP"||54||Single||30 May 2019|
|Digga D & Russ Millions||"Mr Sheeen"||63||Single||4 July 2019|
|Kenny Allstar||"Friday" (ft. DigDat)||62||Single||18 July 2019|
|Krept & Konan||"I Spy" (ft. Headie One & K-Trap)||18||Single||25 July 2019|
|Headie One||Music x Road||05||Album||5 September 2019|
|Headie One||"Hard to Believe"||79||Single||26 September 2019|
|Poundz||"Opp Thot"||33||Single||24 October 2019|
|Dave||"Paper Cuts"||15||Single||21 November 2019|
|Tion Wayne, Dutchavelli
|"I Dunno"||07||Single||11 June 2020|
|M Huncho & Dutchavelli||Burning||13||Single||02 July 2020|
|Digga D||"Woi"||24||Single||16 July 2020|
Drill lyrics often convey aggressive themes evident in some of the genre's music videos which may cause the style to be regarded as a negative influence. Some key public figures have attempted to link drill music with violent behavior among London youths. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick successfully petitioned YouTube to remove 30 drill videos in 2018. On July 25, 2015, police shut down a concert featuring Chief Keef, a rapper who helped popularize drill music in the US. Though the concert was a benefit for the families of Dillan Harris and Marvin Carr, a toddler and a 22-year-old man who were killed on July 11, it was considered a threat to public safety.
The purported linkage between drill music and increasing crime rates is controversial. UK drill rapper Drillminister has disputed the claim of a knife-attack victim who accused the genre of inciting violent behavior. Drillminister explained that many are quick to point the finger at drill music without understanding the circumstances. Many drill rappers use their life circumstances as subject matter for their lyrics. Daniel Levitin, a psychology professor at McGill University in Canada, has stated that other factors, such as people's personalities, can cause them to indulge in violence rather than being influenced by drill music, and that drill music may be enjoyed by non-violent listeners.
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