Ten years ago, Chicago rapper Chief Keef led a drill music movement that was so popular that major labels descended on the city. The result was a wave of young artists who grew up obsessed with Keef and his crew, but they took the genre in their own direction. The resulting sounds are unmistakable, with a haunting sound and beats that are typically 60 to 70 beats per minute. This type of rap has been controversial from the beginning, and it often recounts the horrors of living in the streets. Drill rap radio stations feature this music and the issues it reflects, and they are growing in popularity around the world.
Some have claimed that drill rap glorifies violence and perpetuates negative stereotypes of black communities, but others argue that it offers a platform for these artists to tell their stories. These issues are particularly important for urban areas, where youth violence and drug abuse are common problems. In recent years, drill rap radio has emerged in many cities, including New York. These stations feature interviews with drill artists and discuss the social and political issues that affect these communities.
The Brooklyn drill scene began to take shape in 2016, with local artists like 22Gz and Sheff G building a following through mixtape releases and YouTube videos. The movement gained momentum in 2019, with the success of Pop Smoke’s “Welcome to the Party” and Fivio Foreign’s “Big Drip.” These hits showcased the burgeoning talent of rappers from the borough who had learned from the Chicago drill scene but adapted it to their own New York style.
While these rappers embraced the street shit that made up most of drill music, they also incorporated more traditional melodies into their work and focused more on storytelling and relatability. In addition, some of the Brooklyn producers who shaped this sound brought influences from other British genres such as grime and garage to the mix, giving the new Brooklyn style its own unique flavor.
One of the most significant figures in the movement was a producer named AXL Beats, who was responsible for both Fivio Foreign’s and Pop Smoke’s big hits. He pushed the boundaries of what the genre could sound like by using a bassline that was more in line with garage than Chicago’s hardstyle, and his dark production caught the attention of Sheff G and other Brooklyn artists.
The death of Pop Smoke in a home invasion shooting this February was a tragic reminder that this music can be dangerous, and that the issues it addresses are real and still exist in modern society. The murder of a star of the movement, however, hasn’t dampened enthusiasm for the genre and its potential to bring attention to important urban issues.