|Cultural origins||late 2000s, early 2010s, Chicago, United States|
|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, King Louie, DomBoy2k, 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, Dutch and Brooklyn drill (re-introduced to Brooklyn in the late 2010s).
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 120 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, 22Gz, and Pop Smoke collaborating with UK drill producers such as 808Melo, Yamaica Productions, Yoz Beats, Tommyprime 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.
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