What is Drill Rap and What’s With the Criticism?

Jake Hawkins, Staff Writer

When most people hear the word “rap” in a conversation, they automatically assume the music contains the stereotypical rhymes and flows that come with traditional rap. When it comes to drill rap, however, the story differs. So, what exactly is drill rap, and why is it so heavily criticized?

The reason for the criticism of drill rap stems from the genre’s influence over a rise in death and violence in areas where the music has gained popularity. Violence in the U.K. helped shed light on young communities’ harsh realities in London, Chicago and New York with violence and murder as a daily occurance. Officials have blamed the genre on everything listed above, and thus, U.K. officials have banned hundreds of music videos about drill rap and have restricted rappers on what they are allowed to say in songs to try to help calm the tension. Many have found this ignorant, and believe that, regardless, drill rap is part of culture and does not stop violence on the streets. These regulations also do not help the true root causes of this kind of violence, such as childhood trauma, poverty, bad schools, family breakdowns among many other issues. 

There is a huge difference between drill rap and trap music. The difference is in the lyrics; trap music, which is another form of rap, may focus on topics like money and drug dealing, while drill rap focuses on the unfiltered, uncensored and blunt brutality and violence of the streets in many of these cities. A lot of the music centers on the rapper’s neighborhood and culture. This culture’s foundations center  around the usual chaotic nature and violence of the neighborhoods, which originated in the southside of Chicago. 

Where did drill rap originate from? Drill rap’s origins stem from the southside of Chicago where it started around 2011. The southside of Chicago was nicknamed “Chiraq” —  a mix of Chicago and Iraq — as the people living in the area sometimes claim how more murders occur in this area every day than in the Iraq war.

A drill rapper and a drill rap song/beat hold their own differences. A drill rap song contains the stereotypical lyrics of “gang” activity, with beats usually having 808 drums, kicks and slides. These deep, loud, electronic drums immediately identify themselves in any drill song. Drill rappers typically release drill songs,  but a drill rapper does more than say lyrics over a beat. Drill rappers differentiate from the standard rappers because everything they say takes inspiration from real events, making likely real claims  concerning violence in the past, present and future — major contributors to the criticism of the genre. 

Drill rappers try to style their flow and base it upon the emotionally draining, often traumatizing atmospheres of their neighborhoods. Most drill rappers in Chicago may use some autotune to convey a cold and dark vibe to their music. This flow style, along with the cold and sinister lyrics,  make the style stand out. This style is typically avoided in New York and the U.K., as drill rappers in these areas attempt to make their music more expressive. Drill rappers also often use catchy melodies to mix with the menacing feel of their tracks. In the U.K., fast beats are used more, as they try to focus on melody, as opposed to drum machines and 808 beats in cities in the United States. A more recent trend in New York drill rap is to use samples — clips from past songs usually looped and pitched up or down. 

The first drill rapper to ever refer to their music as drill was PACMAN in his July 2011 track titled “IT’S A DRILL.” He died later that year,  paving the way for famous drill rappers like Chief Keef where one of his most popular tracks “I Don’t Like” was later remixed by hip hop giant at the time, Kanye West, introducing the rest of the world to drill rap. Chief Keef then released his most famous song “Love Sosa” shortly after, which really put drill rap on the national stage. The drill rap popularity only increased when Chief Keef was featured on “Hold My Liquor” on the album “Yeezus,” often known as one of West’s greatest albums, giving Chief Keef and all of drill rap even more of a boost. With all this attention, new drill rappers such as “G Herbo,” “Lil Durk” and “Lil Reese”emerged.

“It’s a very creative type of music, it’s something that most people can cling to and there’s so many subgenres in it like U.K. drill,” Miami Palmetto Senior High music enthusiast Jordan Levy said. 

Shifting to the U.K., many drill rappers have taken inspiration from Chicago drill rap, as South London was where the majority of the popularity for the genre started. A music genre called “Grime” influenced U.K. drill, which is why U.K. drill rap beats produce faster and more electronic sounds Grime, a genre of electronic dance music that derived from London in the early 2000s, drew influence from hip-hop. After Chief Keef’s “I Don’t Like” track, the London drill rap scene truly became a reality.  Kennington is believed to be where drill rap first became most influential with the “Harlem Spartans,” a famous U.K. drill rap group who helped introduce the rest of the world to other U.K. drill rappers. British rappers are mostly first or second-generation West African or Caribbean, and for this reason, the accents in U.K. drill rap are typically a mixture between British, Somali, Arabic and Jamaican slang. The British drill rap scene sparked a huge debate over violence in England, focused mainly on London

New York drill rappers take inspiration from Chicago and London drill rap. The vocals usually differentiate New York drill rap from other drill rap music. A great example is one of the most famous drill rappers “Pop Smoke” as with one of his most famous tracks “Welcome To The Party,” which was produced by British beat maker “808Melo,” a huge beat maker for London drill rappers like “K-Trap” and “Headie One.” Headie One also made a song featuring a drill beat, “Only You Freestyle” with music icon Drake. 

Interestingly enough, the connections between the drill rappers in Chicago and New York can also  trace back through roots, most of the important drill rappers in their areas are Caribbean and first-generation Afro-Latinos.  

 “It’s rightfully criticized, people usually associate it with bad behavior which makes sense but it truly brings people together and that’s a beautiful thing. Drill rap shouldn’t be censored because that limits art as a whole which is just wrong and limits creativity as a whole,” Levy said.