In a time when violence and gun culture are in the headlines, rappers like Fivio Foreign, Sheff G, and 22Gz are using their music as a way to tell their neighborhood’s story. But their music is more than just an art form: it’s a generational sound that channels the anger, foreboding, and ambient bad vibes of our historical moment as powerfully as any popular music. The abrasiveness of drill and the stations that play it speak to hip-hop’s shifting mode of production and distribution, where kids with laptops can flood the Internet with songs and videos—and, if they’re lucky or talented, kick-start their careers.
Drill’s bleakness and nihilism, its immersion in gang conflicts, its incorporation of local color and lingo gave voice to young—often, very young—Black men, and stood in stark contrast to a hip-hop mainstream that had lost touch with its grass roots. The gang violence that fueled the subgenre’s rise was a real-life, day-to-day reality that some critics found hard to stomach. But for many rappers, this was the world they lived in, one that spawned from the very conditions that racism helped to create.
It’s summer in New York, and the city comes alive. All of the pent-up kinetic energy from the long winter erupts over its block and borough boundaries, and the clashing pressures coursing through neighborhoods that are prone to gun violence and drug trafficking explode into confrontation. The sounds of that clash are captured in the beats and melodies of drill rap.
At its height, the Brooklyn drill scene—led by rappers like ArrDee, Central Cee, and SwitchOTR—was hotter than ever. But the scene was also a tinderbox, whose promise of stardom and riches was derailed by murders and arrests that sent some of its biggest stars to prison. And after the fatal stabbing of 14-year-old Notti Osama in front of a Queens subway station in early July, the movement was thrown into further turmoil by a series of viral diss tracks that capitalized on the tragedy.
But despite the setbacks, a handful of young artists—notably Dame Daz and the XO crew—have managed to resurrect the movement. The sound has even spread to other parts of the country, with London and Manchester drill scenes picking up steam.
A slew of upcoming rappers have signed to major labels, and the movement’s sound has evolved. Producers like AXL Beats and AJ Yung sample everything from ’90s R&B hits to choral church bells in their dramatic beats, while vocalists such as FBG Duck and Lil Durk have brought more traditional melody to the mix. And a new generation of up-and-coming stars is capitalizing on TikTok’s platform to bring their music to the masses, with the booming popularity of songs such as FBG Duck’s “Notti Bop” showing that the genre hasn’t yet lost its ability to catch fire. drill rap radio