Drill rap is a genre of gangsta rap that is associated with urban violence, often depicting the life of an inner-city youth. Its lyrical content can include drug use, gun violence and other criminal activities. The genre has also been criticized for being too sensational, exploitative and potentially a vehicle for promoting crime. In the past, the term drill rap has been used to describe the music of young black artists in the city of Chicago and later in Brooklyn.
The first rapper to embrace the name was a man who knew the dangers of street life. Pac Man’s “It’s a Drill” in 2010 centered themes of shooting and killing, and the rappers who came next—Chicago rappers like Chief Keef, G Herbo, King Louie and Lil Durk—struck a nerve by presenting an unapologetically grim, violent and nihilistic vision of their home city.
When the 18-year-old Brooklyn rapper Chii Wvttz was shot to death in Bedford-Stuyvesant in February, many saw a link to the burgeoning drill scene. In a city where one homicide is almost expected each week, the sound of spraying hi-hats and double-tapped rhyme blasts reverberated, triggering alarms from city officials that drill was fueling a cycle of violence.
The murder sparked a debate over whether the music itself was to blame, and it also rekindled questions about how to classify the sound and its practitioners. Regardless of how the genre is defined, it’s clear that Brooklyn drill isn’t just a musical style: It is a movement.
In the midst of controversy and debate, a new generation of artists emerged that was influenced by drill and other street-oriented styles but still made it their own. This group of rappers, which includes 22Gz, Sheff G and Fivio Foreign, embodies the future of the genre, even as they look back at its storied past.
These young rappers and their producers, known as the drill beatmakers, crafted sounds that were rooted in their own lives but also reflected the broader realities of Brooklyn and the U.K. Drill’s slowed-down tempo, as opposed to the faster trap beats of Atlanta and Los Angeles, allowed for an unhurried delivery of speech-rhythm threats over booming bass with synthetic snares, snaps or claps anchoring the beat. The productions often feature long stretches without drum kicks, which leaves room for ad-libs and tension to build.
The result was an urgent and visceral style that connected deeply with their neighborhoods. While the younger rappers don’t shy away from nihilistic, street-level language, they avoid the inflammatory disses that made the Chicago and U.K. drill scenes famous—the same disses that were fueled by the near-constant beefs and deep animosity of rival crews in those cities. These young rappers have a clear understanding of their roles as torchbearers for their communities, and they’re not afraid to let it be heard. drill rap