Chief Keef performing on stage at Lollapalooza right at the beginning of the explosion of drill music.

The Rise of Drill Music and the New Players

By Pearce O’Neal
Music Journalist

The genre of rap reaches far and wide.  Those who listen to rap know this. Whether you’re an old head and prefer the classics like Tupac, Nas, and Biggie, or you prefer the new age trap sound of Future, Migos, and Lil Uzi, it all has many of the same elements and falls under the big umbrella of the genre. In the 2010s, a subgenre of trap emerged: drill music. Drill music used the same hard-hitting 808s of trap music and mixed it with dark lyrics involving crime, violence, and the results of growing up around them.

Most people who listen to drill music often associate it with Chicago.  They think of key players like Chief Keef, Fredo Santana, Young Chop and Lil Durk. Chief Keef signed a multi-million-dollar deal with Interscope at 17 and dropped his debut album Finally Rich featuring hit songs “I Don’t Like,” “Hate Bein’ Sober,” and “Love Sosa,” all of which became staples in drill. He set an example in his music and music videos and changed the entire music industry.

As drill music blew up, other artists in the game began to take notice. Kanye West remixed Keef’s “I Don’t Like” for his GOOD Music label compilation album Cruel Summer. West also tapped Keef for his Yeezus album and incorporated many different elements including drill, electronic, and house. It wasn’t long before drill caught on in other parts of the world. The U.K. drill scene exploded in late 2012, utilizing many of the same themes used in drill music in the United States.  

Within the last few years, a new force and place in drill has emerged. The New York drill scene has applied the fundamentals laid down by its predecessors and created a new sound that is unique to the New York narrative.  There is a wave of new artists breaking into the game and making a name for themselves. Rappers like Sheff G, Casanova, 22Gz, and Polo G are fairly new to the game and already have hits under their belts. 

Recently, the most notable rise is that of Pop Smoke. A year ago, the name Pop Smoke wouldn’t have meant anything. Today you can’t talk about drill music without mentioning his substantial impact on it. His scratchy, deep voice mimics that of a chain smoker and his ad-libs include barks, which is one of the things that makes his music so enthralling.  His breakout song “Welcome to the Party ” was released last April, just in time to become a summertime hit. The song went on to be remixed by rappers Nicki Minaj and grime star Skepta.  

With violent and almost nihilistic lyrics, plus the all-around nature of drill music, it comes as no surprise that there is sometimes conflict with law enforcement. Most of these rappers are making music about their struggle growing up in the streets and that often includes violence, drugs, and even gang activity. Back in October, Rolling Loud music festival actually removed five rappers from their lineup in New York at the request of the police. The rappers removed included Pop Smoke, 22Gz, Casanova, Don Q, and Sheff G. The New York City Police Department said that there would have been a higher risk of violence if they performed due to their association with recent acts in the city.  

Whether you love it or hate it, there is no way to deny the effect it has had on music. A lot of these rappers are still young and not going anywhere as the bubble of drill music continues to expand.  For more exposure to music and artists in drill check out The New New York playlist on Apple Music and listen to Pop Smoke’s new tape Meet the Woo 2.

Featured image by Swimfinfan on Flickr via Creative Commons.

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