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The Origins of Drill Music

As a subgenre of hip-hop, drill music originated in the Chicago Southside throughout the 2010s.[1] Drill holds similarities to Atlanta’s trap music scene, which also embodies dark production and themes of criminal activity.[2][3][4] Emerging from crime-ridden neighborhoods like Chi-Town’s Woodlawn community called “Dro City,” the genre became notorious for its gang violence.[5] A slang term for “kill,” drill became known for its trademark flow, ominous lyrics about street hustling, and toned-down tempo (around 70 beats per minute).[6][7] [8]

Coined by Dro City hip-hop artist Pac Man on his 2010 track, “It’s a Drill,” the rapper met his untimely demise in June of 2010 before the movement became an international phenomenon.[9]

Early drill artist King Louie made waves with tracks like “What That Mouth Do” and “Too Cool,” while Lil Durk and Lil Reese also began buzzing with their collaborative effort “L’s Bitch.”[10] ” Shortly thereafter, Chief Keef became the most prominent drill artist on YouTube after releasing his single “Bang.”[11]

Other artists like Keef’s cousin, Fredo Santana, G Herbo, and Lil Bibby helped popularize the sound, but one of drill’s most pivotal moments was the release of Chief Keef’s “I Don’t Like.”[12] The track became mainstream, charted on the Billboard 100, garnered tens of millions of streams and inspired major acts like Kanye West and Drake to co-sign his music as well.[13] The 2012 single also boasted a remix featuring Kanye, Pusha T, Big Sean, and Jadakiss on G.O.O.D. Music’s Cruel Summer LP later that same year.[14]

King Louie also rose to fame with an appearance on Kanye West’s Yeezus in 2013 that culminated in a record deal with Epic Records in 2015.[15]

The success of Chicago rapper Lil Bibby’s 2013 mixtape, Free Crack, parlayed into a contract with RCA Records, but he eventually switched his focus from rising artist to music executive.[16] [17] In 2017, he retired from rapping to run his own record label, Grade A, where he eventually signed late artist Juice WRLD who topped the Billboard chart with Death Race for Love (2019).[18][19]

Chief Keef had also signed to Interscope and relocated from Chicago to Los Angeles, but was dropped in 2014 due to drill’s waning commercial appeal. [20]

Throughout the mid-2010s, U.K. drill was birthed in South London from a fusion of British genres like grime and garage along with elements of its American counterpart.[21]

Known as crucial players throughout the budding New York drill scene in 2016, 22Gz and Sheff G collaborated with British producers like AXL Beats, 808 Melo, Yoz Beats, Swirv, and Yamaica.[22] Drake rapped over AXL Beats’ “War” in 2019 and showed love for the genre stating, “It’s amazing that the New York drill movement is getting so big,” during an interview with RapRadar.[23]

Rappers Fivio Foreign and Pop Smoke further pushed the genre by garnering multi-million dollar record deals in 2019.[24][25] Fivio signed to Columbia Records for seven figures while Pop Smoke secured a deal with Victor Victor Worldwide, Steven Victor’s joint venture with Republic Records/Universal Music Group.[26] Considered the face of Brooklyn drill with hits “Welcome to the Party” and “Dior,” Pop was tragically shot and killed in a still unsolved Los Angeles home invasion on February 19, 2021.[27] [28]

In February of 2022, newly elected New York mayor Eric Adams expressed concern over the drill genre’s glorification of guns and violence.[29] Calling the music “alarming,” he called for the erasure of its content on all social platforms.[30] A few days later, he retracted his statement on the social media ban and held a summit with a group of rappers, including Fivio Foreign and Maino in hopes of better addressing gun violence. [31]

Globally, drill music continues to remain prevalent on a large scale, permeating a myriad of countries, including Ghana, Nigeria, the Netherlands, and Australia.[32] [33]

[1] https://www.google.com/books/edition/Youth_Culture_and_the_Media/0fH3DwAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=drill%20music%20chicago%20southside&pg=PT152&printsec=frontcover

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.masterclass.com/articles/drill-music-guide#what-is-drill-music

[4] https://www.xxlmag.com/best-drill-songs-last-five-years/

[5] https://www.musicorigins.org/item/what-is-drill-music/

[6] Ibid.

[7] https://www.complex.com/music/brooklyn-drill-the-new-sound-of-new-york

[8] https://www.complex.com/music/chicago-drill-music-rap-forced-out

[9] https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_End_of_Chiraq/zh1iDwAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=pac+man+drill+music+andrew+barber&pg=PT31&printsec=frontcover

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] https://www.complex.com/music/brooklyn-drill-the-new-sound-of-new-york

[13] https://sc.edu/uofsc/posts/2021/11/11_conversation_chief_keef.php#.YtcxvezMJQI

[14] https://genius.com/Kanye-west-chief-keef-pusha-t-big-sean-and-jadakiss-dont-like1-lyrics

[15] https://www.masterclass.com/articles/drill-music-guide#a-brief-history-of-drill-music

[16] Ibid.

[17] https://www.xxlmag.com/lil-bibby-interview/

[18] Ibid.

[19] https://www.billboard.com/pro/juice-wrld-billboard-200-no-1-album-death-race-for-love/

[20] https://www.billboard.com/music/rb-hip-hop/chief-keef-confirms-being-dropped-from-interscope-records-on-6289381/

[21] Ibid.

[22] https://www.complex.com/music/brooklyn-drill-the-new-sound-of-new-york

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/25/arts/music/pop-smoke.html

[26] https://www.billboard.com/pro/columbia-records-fivio-foreign-signs-brooklyn/

[27] Ibid.

[28] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/25/arts/music/pop-smoke.html

[29] https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/mayor-eric-adams-drill-rap-1299108/

[30] Ibid.

[31] https://www.theguardian.com/music/2022/feb/18/eric-adams-drill-rap-music-gun-violence


[33] https://www.xxlmag.com/best-drill-songs-last-five-years/

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