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The rise of drill, explained

Known for its glorification of a lifestyle full of drugs and violence, drill music has spread from Chicago to the rest of the world within the blink of an eye.

Whether it’s played on social media, TV, or the radio, the drill scene is on an undeniable come-up. This form of rap music is at an all time high, dominating the billboards with album’s like “Shiesty Season,” peaking at 3rd on Billboard’s top 200 albums. Artists like Lil Durk from Chicago, Sleepy Hallow from New York and Tay K out of California have carried the genre throughout the United States. However, rappers around the world such as Central Cee from the UK, Kojaque from Ireland and HP Boyz from Australia hopped onto the drill trend as well; it has undoubtedly become a worldwide subgenre of rap music. 

Since the South-Chicago drill movement in 2012, this dark, violent and harsh form of trap music has changed the hip-hop landscape, but has also attracted controversy due to its connection with crime. Finding little radio play to help promotion, drill artists have instead gone viral via social media.

Chief Keef, Lil’ Reese and Fredo Santana were just a few teenage boys storytelling on a trap beat back in 2010. Praised by locals for their brutal honesty, they were mainstream in no time. Chief Keef’s Love Sosa and Don’t Like were the first drill style songs in the top 20 of Billboard’s Hot 100, peaking at 8th and 12th in North America. One of which features a few modest young rappers by the names of Kanye West, Pusha T and Big Sean.

The world was quick to adopt the style with their own twists, New York drill, Toronto drill and most notably, UK drill were just a few genres that were all created due to the Chicago drill movement. 

Arguably the most unexpected thing about this was UK drill’s instant rise to fame. Gang affiliated rappers throughout the United Kingdom such as Central Cee and Headie One have been running the drill scene over the last few years. 

Russ and Tion Wayne’s newest single Body featuring New York drill rapper Fivio Foreign has recently made history as the first drill style song to ever top the UK singles chart. A statistic like this is incredible considering its lack of exposure through radio stations due to its profanity and anti-social themes. 

In 2018, London’s police commissioner claimed that drill music had a major impact on the rise of knife violence across the UK. Yanko’s Love It immediately comes to mind after you hear the commissioner’s statement. In the music video you can see dozens of young geezers who are a part of the Block 7 Gang wearing tracksuits and ski masks to hide their identities. The chorus of this gruesome song references rival artist, p90: “heard p90’s 7 foot / if I ching him down I’ll make him midget.” Throughout the video the young men make stabbing motions and refer to past murders and altercations with Block 6 (Block 6 and Block 7 being rival street gangs.) In return, Block 6 makes a diss track on Block 7 and so on…you get the point—this is a never ending rivalry. 

The question becomes whether the drill scene has taken more lives or saved more lives. On one end you have the rapper’s point of view: they describe a personal choice between making money through music or selling drugs and committing crime. However, many would argue that the glorification of this lifestyle through their music videos and lyrics for millions to see and listen to is what’s doing the harm. Major platforms such as YouTube have even been forced to take certain videos down after a couple simple songs led to a couple complicated murders.

Lil Durk, Sheff G and Sleepy Hallow are a few artists currently leading the drill movement in America with songs like Back In Blood and Deep End Freestyle. Social media apps have given these songs a chance that radio stations haven’t in the past. As Sheff G said in his hit single No Suburban, Pt. 2, “No this ain’t dance music, nigga / No, this ain’t chill music, nigga / This for the streets, so fuck your say / Don’t care if this don’t get no radio play”. 

Unfortunately, no radio plays equals no money, so these songs were simply made out of raw passion and adoration for the style of music.

Johnny Nunez/WireImage

So what makes these songs blow up, and what led to these rappers’ success?

Recently these artists owe a lot of their publicity to social media apps, specifically, TikTok. The app has given rise to a number of young artists due to how the platform’s content is often based on 60 second song clips. Songs like Dior by Pop Smoke were popularized and exposed to the general public through the app. 

With a violent style of music based off of diss tracks and constant mention to guns, crime, and violence, fame in this industry has often led to death. Pop Smoke, King Von and Fredo Santana were just a few upcoming rappers who lost their lives early in their careers. Altercations between gangs are clearly common, but the addition of your face all over social media and constant attention from the paparazzi make up a recipe for disaster. Bashar Barakah Jackson (better known as Pop Smoke) had only recently blown up on social media becoming one of hip hop’s hottest artists within months. His hit albums Meet the Woo followed by Meet the Woo 2, featuring songs like Invincible, Get Back and most distinctly, Dior, were all viral within months of their release.

Adored by many for his original sound and gothic beats, Pop Smoke was undeniably one of the hardest rappers of his time. Constantly invoking the names of those who are dead or imprisoned while spitting lyrics full of indirect threats all with a grim, gloomy beat in the background. 

50 Cent was quick to express his love for the rapper, and he was even featured on Pop’s posthumous album. He had taken Pop under his wing and really appreciated the similarities they had in their Brooklyn style of rap music. Pop Smoke even made the song Got it on me, which was almost identical to 50 Cent’s legendary song from 2003, Many Men. “[I] influenced him, and he was doing his own thing with it. I fell in love with the nigga at that point,” the legendary rapstar and ultra successful businessman explained on Instagram. No doubt Pop Smoke was on top of the world, but all great things must come to an end. In mid February he had posted a story on instagram leaking his address. By the 19th of February, 2020, Jackson’s home was invaded and he was reportedly murdered by a rival gang member.

Cover Image: Screenshot from RMR’s Rascal music video

1 comment on “The rise of drill, explained

  1. Pingback: The capabilities I have demonstrated through my work in New Media Lab – Lemar’s Life

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