Drill rap is the genre of urban music that exploded from Chicago into a ferocious, world-spanning subgenre that combines elements of trap and gangsta rap. Its terse rhymes and drum beats, often set to a heart-pounding tempo, are designed to grab the attention of young listeners with its menacing energy. Its message is a mix of street culture and gangster lifestyles, with disses and threats of violence being commonplace. The music is often accompanied by gun-strewn videos, which are often the cause of tension between police and youths in communities where the style is popular. As a result, the genre has been under intense scrutiny following several shootings involving young rappers. New York City Mayor Eric Adams has urged social media sites to ban drill rap songs and videos, warning that the music glorifies killing and encourages a culture where people are quick to pull out guns to settle disputes. While these fears are valid, blanket bans on music are unlikely to work and could end up stoking the divide.
Chief Keef was one of the earliest proponents of the drill scene, catching national attention in 2011 with his mixtape I Don’t Like and subsequent single Bang, which attracted the attention of Kanye West. His rise to fame helped bolster the careers of fellow Chicago drill rappers such as King Louie and G Herbo. This notoriety would also spawn the New York drill movement with rappers such as Shmurda, Rebel and members of the GS9 collective.
While many have been quick to dismiss drill as a “gangster rap” subgenre, it’s important to note that gangsta rap has historically been a form of empowerment for marginalised groups of young black men. It enables them to convey their struggles in a way that reaches a wider audience and makes them feel validated.
Moreover, it allows them to goad other rappers through their lyrics and earn the respect of those in their communities by proving they can handle their business. These messages are particularly important for young people living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, where violent gangs are prevalent and the threat of violence can be felt on an everyday basis.
Despite these positive messages, drill music has been linked to an increase in gun-related violence and crime. A study found that the music’s sped-up drum beats can make people more likely to shoot each other, and the repetition of phrases such as “I don’t play with no fool” and “shot him right in the face” can trigger a fight or attack.
The Brooklyn drill scene is led by rappers like 22Gz, Sheff G and Fivio Foreign who all have a strong understanding of their roles as torchbearers for their neighborhoods. Their recent hits like “Don’t Start” and “Suburban” highlight a willingness to incorporate melodies into the music without losing its signature menacing energy, while also tackling issues such as domestic abuse.