|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 the creation of other regional scenes, such as Australian, French, Irish, 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 Brooklyn drill which was almost completely influenced by Chicago with acts such as Bobby Shmurda and Rowdy Rebel, while the late 2010s saw a emergence of prominent drill artists from Brooklyn, New York, such as Pop Smoke, Sheff G, Fivio Foreign, Sleepy Hallow, Smoove'L, 22Gz, Nick Blixky, Blizz Vito, Bizzy Banks, and Rah Swish.
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.
Influenced by the style of Chicago drill music, UK drill artists often rap about violent and hedonistic criminal lifestyles. Typically, those that 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 heavily 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, variety of lyrical delivery, and the fierce rivalries that came with it.
Notable pioneers include the postal-code crews 150, 67 (both based in or around Brixton) and 86. Since 2016, more modern groups have emerged such as 814, Silwood Nation, Block 6, Y.ACG, Zone 2, BSide, Moscow17, CGM (Formerly 1011), 12World, SMG, OFB, NPK and the Harlem Spartans. UK drill groups relied on internet platforms to distribute their music, particularly on YouTube, where platforms such as Link-Up TV, GRM Daily, SB.TV, Mixtape Madness, PacMan TV and PressPlay Media have helped various groups amass thousands, sometimes millions, of views.
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 utilize a tempo of approximately 140 bpm.
UK drill groups often engage in disputes with each other, sometimes violent, often releasing multiple diss 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 worldwide attention 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.
Some London public officials have criticized UK drill and the culture surrounding it, arguing that it has encouraged violent crime. Detective Superintendent Mike West stated that "there are gestures of violence [in UK drill music videos], with hand signals suggesting they are firing weapons and graphic descriptions of what they would do to each other." In 2017, then 17-year-old rapper Junior Simpson (known as M-Trap), who had written lyrics about knife attacks, was part of a group of people 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 2018, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick named UK drill as one of the reasons for a rise in the rate of knife attacks in London and urged large internet companies to remove content that "glamourises violence". In May of that year, YouTube reported that it had removed more than half of the music videos that she had asked the platform to delete; she identified them as causes of violent crime in London. More than 30 videos had been removed in total. Later that same year, South London-born drill MC and aspiring Mayor of London Drillminister released a track called 'Political Drillin' which was broadcast on Channel 4 News and subsequently went viral, using UK MP's comments in a bid to highlight the hypocrisy of their own violent language. In July 2019, YouTube decided it would no longer be taking down UK drill videos on YouTube.
In June 2018, in what was described as a legally unprecedented move, the members of the UK drill group 1011 were prohibited by court order from mentioning injury or death in their music, and from mentioning certain postcodes in a "gang context". The order also requires them to notify police within 24 hours of releasing a new video, provide 48 hours' notice of the date and location of any of their performances or recordings, and allow police officers to attend them. The order was criticized by many, including by Jodie Ginsberg, Chief Executive of the campaign group Index on Censorship, who said "Banning a kind of music is not the way to handle ideas or opinions that are distasteful or disturbing" and "This isn't going to address the issues that lead to the creation of this kind of music."
In June 2018, Victor Maibvisira was one of five members of a gang who were convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, having stabbed Kyle Yule to death in Gillingham, Kent, in October 2017. Whilst he was on remand, a drill video featuring him rapping about knife crime and gangs was put online.
UK drill's production style has spread outside of the United Kingdom, with artists and groups in other countries rapping in styles and using production heavily influenced by UK drill music, as well as co-opting British slang common in UK drill music. British producers have managed to export the sound by producing for artists in other nations. 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. The style has also spread to New York City, where artists such as Sheff G, 22Gz and Pop Smoke have collaborated with UK drill 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, and the production style is rapidly becoming popular among other artists from the Toronto area and Metro Vancouver  prompting speculations that a new hybrid subgenre of drill music combining American and UK elements can emerge from Canada.
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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