Drill rap is the brazen brrrrrap that emerged from street-level rap in recent years. The genre spawned from the gang violence of areas like Chicago and New York. The sound embodies a dreadful urban environment that can feel at once visually jarring—the spraying hi-hats and double-tapped rhyme blasts of gunplay—and inaudibly eerie—the bass’s low, cavernous beats and a bottomless pool of ad-libbed BANG! BAM! POW! It’s a rhythm that’s as innate to young Black rappers in these cities as the beats any laptop producer can create after a YouTube tutorial.
The first incarnations of the genre were influenced by Atlantic trap producer Lex Luger’s muscular pomp, and influential producers took strong sonic cues from Atlanta’s second-wave trap—the sound that brought Drake to prominence in 2010 with “It’s a Drill.” But the music also drew inspiration from the streets of Chicago, where rapper Pac Man coined the term drill as slang for shootings and killings. Drill artists often focus on the same themes, delivering their lyrics with a monotone straight-faced vocal style that conveys the fear and exhaustion of life in a violent neighborhood.
In 2022, New York City Mayor Eric Adams condemned drill music as a source of real-world gun violence, saying that the diss tracks and gang feuds incited murders. The slaying of 18-year-old Chii Wvttz, who was associated with the Brooklyn drill scene, exacerbated these concerns. The murder of the artist known as SD in March of 2023 further fueled these fears and prompted many DJs to stop playing gang and diss tracks.
Despite the controversy, the music has remained popular. In fact, the emergence of young artists with an ability to finesse a melody with their hard lyrical delivery has made a number of Brooklyn drillers into superstars. The most popular artists have been able to bridge the gap between the drill scene and mainstream hip-hop, collaborating with the likes of Drake and Future.
One of the most promising talents to emerge from the movement is Fredo Santana, cousin of Chief Keef and a member of his GBE squad. His chilling melodies and ominous beats have helped him carve out a niche as a true leader of the genre.
Another star to rise from the scene is Fivio Foreign, a gravelly-voiced rapper who came to prominence in the second half of 2020 with his viral hit “Big Drip.” His video features a whole squad of Hennessy-branding crews rolling up zaza and smoking weed in front of a Shake Shack—the kind of energy that’s a lot easier to imagine rolling down a ghetto block in Brooklyn than it is squatting in a cramped apartment in Chicago. His song has been streamed over a million times and has even landed him a spot on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Whether or not his new track will propel him to bigger heights remains to be seen, but his talent is undeniable. drill rap