The Rise of Drill Rap

Drill is one of the fastest-growing genres of hip hop. Its stark beats and dark, nihilistic lyrics have gained a following in the US, UK, and even beyond. But its rise has been tarnished by accusations that the music glamourizes violence. WHYY’s Yvonne Latty and Sammy Caiola recently spoke with Philadelphia high school teacher Armond James, who has concerns about how the music depicts violence. He discussed his fear that some students could take these songs as encouragement to commit violent acts, and how it might discourage other young people from wanting to be a part of the scene.

Drillers have a powerful ability to tap into the reality of their daily lives and make extremely urgent, visceral music. They often rap about gang violence, drugs, and murders in their communities, reciting their own experiences or those of family members. But despite its harsh content, the music can also be hopeful and even joyful at times.

The earliest practitioners of drill rap started emerging in Chicago around the turn of the decade. Artists like PacMan from Dro City, Lil Mouse, and Chief Keef began getting attention online with viral hits such as I Don’t Like and Love Sosa. Their style was popularized by producer Young Chop, who helped them sign record deals with major label companies and get featured on Kanye West’s 2012 album Yeezus.

In 2014, Young Pappy emerged as drill’s underdog. He hailed from the Northside of Chicago and his demon-voiced delivery felt like an evolution for the movement. His single “Killa” — a brutally honest retelling of his own encounters with gun violence — established him as one of drill’s most important MCs and would later influence the likes of Tay-K.

It was around the same time that Brooklyn rappers 22Gz and Sheff G were starting to show that their scenes were a force to be reckoned with. Their tracks echoed the raw, unadulterated angst of Chicago and UK drill, but were made for New York audiences. They narrated the day-to-day realities of gang culture and were fueled by near-constant beefs between crews.

Compared to trap, the slowed-down tempo of drill music allowed rappers to slow down their flows and accentuate their rhyme schemes. It gave them more room for ad-libs and allowed tension to build up in the song’s structure, with long stretches without drum kicks. The result is a style that can be both airless and plodding if not done well.

It seems that many of the newer artists in the sample drill scene understand this and are taking the sound in a more focused direction. Whether they are sampling 2010s EDM tracks or classic soul samples, they are using these samples to create the mood and emotion that they want their songs to convey. It’s a strategy that is paying off. Songs such as B-Lovee’s “My Everything,” which is used over 400,000 times on TikTok, have propelled the movement into the mainstream. But there is still a long way to go for these rappers to fully realize the potential of their work and to change the discourse surrounding the genre. drill rap

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