The genre is a prominent feature of Chicago hip hop, and is defined by its dark, violent, nihilistic lyrical content and ominous trap-influenced beats.
Drill progressed into the American mainstream in mid-2012 following the success of rappers and producers like Young Chop, Chief Keef, Lil Durk, Fredo Santana, SD and Lil Reese, who had many local fans and a significant Internet presence. Media attention and the signing of drill musicians to major labels followed. Drill musicians were noted for their graphic lyrical content and association with crime in Chicago.
A regional subgenre, UK drill, arose in the South London district of Brixton beginning in 2012.
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The lyrics of drill tend to be violent and very gritty. The Guardians Lucy Stehlik said "nihilistic drill reflects real life where its squeaky-clean hip-hop counterparts have failed." Drill lyrics strongly contrast with the subject matter of earlier Chicago rappers and contemporary mainstream hip hop, which at the time of drill's emergence tended to glorify and celebrate a rise to wealth.
Drill lyrics typically reflect life on the streets, and tend to be gritty, violent, realistic and nihilistic. Drill rappers use a grim, deadpan delivery, often filtered through Auto-Tune, influenced by the "stoned, aimless warbling of Soulja Boy (one of the earliest non-local Keef collaborators) and Lil Wayne before him." Atlanta-based rappers Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame were important influences on the drill scene. Though it bears many similarities to trap music, the speed of a drill beat is generally slower with a moderate tempo, having about 60 to 70 beats per minute. Some producers work at double tempo, such as 130 to 140 beats per minute.
Drillers tend to be young; many prominent musicians in the scene started getting attention while still in their teens. One of the genre's most prominent musicians, Chief Keef, was 16 when he signed a multi-million dollar record contract with Interscope, and in an extreme example, Lil Wayne co-signed the 13-year-old driller Lil Mouse. Critics have noted drill rappers' lack of concern with metaphor or wordplay. Chief Keef said that his simplistic flow is a conscious stylistic choice: "I know what I'm doing. I mastered it. And I don't even really use metaphors or punchlines. 'Cause I don't have to. But I could. ... I think that's doing too much. I'd rather just say what's going on right now. ... I don't really like metaphors or punchlines like that." Whet Moser wrote that Keef's songs are "lyrically, rhymically [sic], and emotionally diminished, which is why they sound so airless and claustrophobic ... It's not even fatalistic, because that would imply a self-consciousness, a moral consideration, that isn't there in the lyrics. It just is, over and over again." A profile on the scene in The New York Times examined the genre's aggression:
With rare exception this music is unmediated and raw and without bright spots, focused on anger and violence. The instinct is to call this tough, unforgiving and concrete-hard music joyless, but in truth it's exuberant in its darkness. Most of its practitioners are young and coming into their creative own against a backdrop of outrageous violence in Chicago, particularly among young people--dozens of teenagers have been killed in Chicago this year--and often related to gangs. (There's a long history of overlap between Chicago's gangs and Chicago's rap.) That their music is a symphony of ill-tempered threats shouldn't be a surprise.
Female artists have been represented in the scene since its origins.Pitchforks Miles Raymer said "instead of rapping about being a 'hitta'--the local term for a shooter--they rapped about being in love with hittas. Otherwise, they rode the same kind of icily sociopathic beats from the same producers as any other drill rappers, and came across as equally tough." Female drillers mix themes of violence and love in their songs, and Katie Got Bandz said, "It's different because males wouldn't expect a female to rap about drilling. They're used to females selling themselves."
Stehlik called drill production style the "sonic cousin to skittish footwork, southern-fried hip-hop and the 808 trigger-finger of trap."Young Chop is frequently identified by critics as the genre's most characteristic producer. The sound of trap producer Lex Luger's music is a major influence on drill, and Young Chop identified Shawty Redd, Drumma Boy and Zaytoven as important precursors to drill.
David Drake of Complex said drill is not defined by any particular production style, but "is about the entirety of the culture: the lingo, the dances, the mentality, and the music, much of which originated in the Woodlawn neighborhood of Dro City."
"Drill" is a slang term for use of automatic weapons: old-time Chicago gangsters would 'drill' someone. The current use now means to fight or retaliate, and "can be used for anything from females getting dolled up to all out war in the streets." Dro City rapper Pacman, considered the stylistic originator of the genre, is credited as the first to apply the term to the local hip hop music.
Drake described the drill scene as a major vehicle of the early 2010s rise of Chicago hip hop, and described the scene as "a grassroots movement that had incubated in a closed, interlocking system: on the streets and through social media, in a network of clubs and parties, and amongst high schools." Drill developed on the South Side of Chicago, in the midst of escalating violence and a homicide crisis. Mark Guarino wrote for Salon that the music grew during "a shift from historic feuding between monolithic crime organizations controlling thousands of members each to intrapersonal squabbling and retaliatory conflicts among smaller hybrid groups whose control extends just a few blocks... The toughened reality of living in these neighborhoods is what shaped Drill music." In the drill scene, rap conflict and gang conflict overlap, and many of the young rappers come from backgrounds with experience of violence.The Independents Sam Gould wrote that Chief Keef "represents both a scary strain of current hip hop culture and a seriously alienated group within American society."
By late 2012, rappers from other scenes and hip hop stars like Kanye West, Drake and Rick Ross were collaborating with drill musicians. Kanye West remixed "I Don't Like" for the 2012 GOOD Music compilation Cruel Summer as "Don't Like", with features from West, Chief Keef, Pusha T, Big Sean, and Jadakiss. West cited drill as an influence on his 2013 album Yeezus, and Chief Keef and King L had vocals featured on the album.
Older Chicago rappers have been mixed in their reaction to drill's popularity and violence. In a radio interview, socially conscious hip hop rapper Lupe Fiasco said "Chief Keef scares me. Not him specifically, but just the culture that he represents ... The murder rate in Chicago is skyrocketing, and you see who's doing it and perpetrating it--they all look like Chief Keef." After Chief Keef threatened Fiasco on Twitter, Fiasco said he was considering quitting the music scene.Rhymefest tweeted that drill is "the theme music to murder."
UK drill is a subgenre of drill music and road rap that originated in the South London district of Brixton from 2012 onwards. Borrowing heavily from the style of Chicago drill music, UK drill artists often rap about violent and hedonistic criminal lifestyles. Typically, those that create this style of music are affiliated with gangs or come from socioeconomically-deprived neighborhoods where crime is a way of life for many. UK drill music is heavily related to road rap, a British style of gangsta rap that became popular in the years prior to the existence of drill. Musically, UK drill often exhibits violent language, variety of lyrical delivery, and the fierce rivalries that came with it. Notable pioneers include the crews 150, 67, 410 and 86 (all based in or around Brixton). Since 2016, more modern groups have emerged such as 814, Silwood Nation, Block 6, Y67, Zone 2, BSide, Moscow 17, 1011, 12World, SMG, OFB, NPK and the Harlem Spartans. UK drill groups relied on internet platforms to distribute their music, particularly on YouTube, where platforms such as Link up TV, GRM Daily, SB.TV, Mixtape Madness, PacMan TV and Pressplay Media have helped various groups amass thousands, sometimes millions, of views.
UK drill also takes influence from earlier British genres such as grime and UK garage, (so much so that it has been called "New Grime" and drill producer Carns Hill has commented that it needs a new name) with a similar 140 bpm unseen in American drill. Unlike American drill, autotune is all but absent from its British counterpart. Whilst Chief Keef uses his "mournful" voice as an instrument, British drill rappers have a much harsher, stripped-back delivery indebted to grime and earlier road rap. UK drill rappers have also taken on a more allusive, ironic lyrical style.
A notable activity popularized among UK drill fans is speculating on social media about which drill artist has been sent to prison or what information can be gathered about which "GM" (gang member) has been violated by whom, adding to what is known as the "scoreboard" (how many people a particular group have collectively stabbed).
UK drill groups often engage in disputes with each other, sometimes violent, often releasing multiple diss tracks. Notable disputes include Zone 2 versus Moscow 17, 150 versus 67 OFB/NPK versus WG/N9 and SMG versus 814 (a member of 814, Showkey, was stabbed to death in 2016 in an unrelated incident).
UK drill received significant attention outside the UK in 2017 when comedian Michael Dapaah released the novelty song "Man's Not Hot". The track samples a beat made by UK drill producers GottiOnEm and Mazza; it was first used by drill group 86 on its song "Lurk", and later 67 with "Let's Lurk" featuring Giggs.
Some London public officials have criticized UK drill and the culture surrounding it, arguing that it has encouraged violent crime. Detective Superintendent Mike West stated that "there are gestures of violence [in UK drill music videos], with hand signals suggesting they are firing weapons and graphic descriptions of what they would do to each other." In 2017, then 17-year-old rapper Junior Simpson (better known as M-Trap), who had written lyrics about knife attacks, was part of a four-person group that stabbed a 15-year-old boy to death, for which he received a life sentence. Judge Anthony Leonard QC told Simpson, "You suggested [the lyrics] were just for show but I do not believe that, and I suspect you were waiting for the right opportunity for an attack." In 2018, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick named UK drill as one of the reasons for a rise in the rate of knife attacks in London and urged large internet companies to remove content that "glamourises violence". In May of that year, YouTube reported that it had removed more than half of the music videos that she had asked the platform to delete; Dick had identified them as causes of violent crime in London. More than 30 videos had been removed in total.
In June 2018, in what was described as a legally unprecedented move, the members of the UK drill group 1011 were prohibited by court order from mentioning injury or death in their music, and from mentioning certain postcodes in a "gang context". The order also requires them to notify police within 24 hours of releasing a new video, provide 48 hours' notice of the date and location of any of their performances or recordings, and allow police officers to attend them. The order was criticized by many, including by Jodie Ginsberg, Chief Executive of the campaign group Index on Censorship, who said, "Banning a kind of music is not the way to handle ideas or opinions that are distasteful or disturbing" and, "This isn't going to address the issues that lead to the creation of this kind of music."
In June 2018, Victor Maibvisira was one of five members of a gang who were convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, having stabbed Kyle Yule to death in Gillingham, Kent, in October 2017. Whilst he was on remand, a drill video featuring him rapping about knife crime and gangs was put online.
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