Drill rap is a genre of hip-hop that represents the lives and street codes of marginalised groups of young people in urban areas. It is often goaded on by gang members and those who are involved in crime, and can sometimes serve as an outlet for their aggression, but blanket bans on the music are unlikely to do much beyond stoking more social and cultural division.
The rappers who create drill rap are young and coming into their creative powers against the backdrop of an ongoing homicide crisis on the South Side of Chicago. The slang and mentality that the music embodies is a reflection of their own experiences, largely influenced by the dangers and emotional exhaustion they face on a daily basis.
In the age of social media, it was only a matter of time before some of these young artists started to find their voice and rise to fame online. YouTube has been the primary platform for many of these new rappers, where they’ve used their unique and creative talents to craft songs that are both personal and reflective of their communities.
One of the most important originators of this genre is a Chicago native known as Pac Man. He is credited with coining the term drill music in his song It’s a Drill, which was released in 2010.
AXL Beats producer Lex Luger is another major figure that paved the way for the New York Drill scene to develop. His sound is known for fusing Atlantic trap music with the sound of urban street rap, while also adding an ominous orchestral element to the production. It is a style that was embraced by the young New York rappers who would become pioneers of this subgenre, including 22Gz, G Herbo, and Lil Bibby.
Drill rap is distinct from other forms of rap in that it relies more on simple and direct lyrics, rather than wordplay and metaphors. It also utilizes a slower beat-per-minute tempo, typically around 60 or 70 beats per minute. This allows artists to deliver lyrics in a monotone, straight-faced tone that conveys their frustrations, fears, and anger in a very unhurried manner. The lyrics are also invariably laced with references to violence and drugs.
When the likes of Nicki Minaj, Drake, and Kanye West began to embrace the sound in recent years, it was only a matter of time until other well-known rappers began jumping on the bandwagon as well. This trend was most notable when G Herbo recorded a song with Drake, titled “Stop and Frisk,” in 2014.
In this week’s Popcast, we discuss the origins of drill rap, its global permutations, and its intermittent embrace by the hip-hop mainstream. We also talk to a Philadelphia high school teacher about his concerns for depictions of violence in this music and how he’s working to change the messaging of local rappers.