When it comes to the world of rap, few genres are as visceral and controversial as drill music. The young and often male-dominated subgenre is a blunt, nihilistic style that’s often inspired by real-life issues in the inner city. The violent lyrics and fast-paced beats speak to the gang culture and gun violence that has plagued many of these disenfranchised communities. But what many people fail to realise is that the young artists who create drill music are not simply talking about all of this violence to sound tough or make a statement, it’s their reality. That’s why this type of rap is so relatable to so many.
Drill music emerged from the South Side of Chicago in the early 2010s, and it didn’t take long before it started to spread to other parts of the US. It also wasn’t long before it began to gain international traction, with a wave of rappers taking inspiration from the brash style and its aggressive lyrical content. These rappers include the likes of King Louie and SD, who both rose to fame in the Chicago drill scene before achieving mainstream success.
The tragic murder of 18-year-old Jayquan McKenley, who performed under the name Chii Wvttz, last month in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant area sparked fresh debate about the connection between urban rap and violence. New York Mayor Eric Adams urged social media platforms to crack down on drill rap, while police officers and victims complained about the genre’s trigger-happy musicians who glorify killing in their songs and are quick to reach for guns to settle disputes.
But the reality is that despite the sometimes violent themes of drill rap, there are a lot of talented and articulate young rappers who’ve come through the scene to make an impact on their peers. Some, such as Headie One, are masters of hooks and ad-libbing while others, like FBG Duck, have a gritty flow that’s both engaging and compelling.
Lil Durk is another artist who has successfully bridged the gap between the drill and hip-hop scenes, with a melodic flow and powerful storytelling. He’s also proved himself to be a durable performer by working with heavyweights like Drake and Future.
Whether they’re boasting about their money or reliving their violent upbringings, these rappers are all delivering hits that show why drill rap is so popular with a generation of fans who can relate to its evocative lyrics. Criticising the genre or censoring it will not stop violence in these communities, as it fails to address the root causes of the problem. But supporting the artists who are trying to change the conversation is a start. drill rap