Drill rap is a style of hip hop that has risen to prominence in the city of New York. Its distinct, hypnotic beats and gang-related lyrics often feature inflammatory disses that have fueled neighborhood violence and caused controversy in New York media. It’s also a genre that’s been defined by its young artists, with most of the most popular artists in the scene gaining attention while still in their teens.
Like the rappers who founded the Chicago and UK drill movements, Brooklyn’s most prominent MCs draw on their real-life experiences to create urgent, visceral music. They speak of drug addiction, gang violence, and the daily struggles they face in their impoverished neighborhoods with a deadpan delivery that’s incredibly compelling.
The slowed-down tempo of drill rap, which is reminiscent of the beats used in trap music, allows for more space in songs and often leaves room for ad-libs and long stretches without drum kicks. This helps keep the sound from becoming monotonous or boring, but it can make songs feel airless and plodding. Drill producers also rely on samples more than their trap counterparts, a process that requires them to be extremely selective about the music they choose to use. Producers like Cash Cobain, EP, WAR, and EvilGiane have all articulated a philosophy that’s similar to their sampling rap predecessors: they gravitate towards certain songs, breaks, or sounds because they resonate with them on a personal level.
For example, the eerie melody of Lil Durk’s ominous “Slide” is considered an early classic of drill rap and prefigured its current melodic approach. The song evokes a sense of dread and unease in its lyrics about a robbery gone wrong and the gunshots that followed it. The accompanying video features a hooded crew posing with Hennessy bottles, a reference to the type of liquor that’s favored by many of those who listen to the genre.
Drill rap has also received criticism for being dangerous, especially for the young audience it appeals to. The violence and gun culture portrayed by many of its artists has been linked to the high murder rates in their neighborhoods, leading many people, including New York City’s newly elected mayor, Eric Adams, to call for an end to the genre.
However, the recent rise of Brooklyn drill artists like Fivio Foreign and Kay Flock is a sign that the movement has found new life in the digital age. Their breakout hits have catapulted them into the national spotlight and brought the sonic trademarks of their Brooklyn neighborhoods to a wider audience. Their XXXTentacion-sampling tracks have even garnered them the attention of major labels, which could pave the way for a major crossover. But as Fivio and his peers continue to define the next wave of the genre, they’re looking for a balance between staying true to their roots and reaching the wider world. We spoke to several young artists about their relationship to drill and the intense reactions they’ve had to it in the past.