Drill music isn’t as popular as other genres of music. Nevertheless, it holds a lot of meaning for those who can relate to the lyrics and the city from which it originated. Continue reading to find out everything you need to know about drill music, including its history, origins, characteristics, etc.
What is Drill Music? Drill music is a subgenre of hip-hop that stemmed in Chicago’s South Side area in early 2010. It is largely influenced by trap music, which is another sub-genre of hip-hop that originated in the Atlanta, Georgia music scene that shares the drill sound’s inclination for slow and dark atmospheres and lyrics that highlight the dangers associated with criminal activity
The drill music scene evolved from underground mixtapes to the mainstream in the mid-2010s thanks to songs such as “I Don’t Like” by Chief Keef in 2012. Subsequently, several hip-hop artists such as Drake and Kanye West started to adopt and promote the drill sound. Rappers also started adopting the Chicago drill in other large American cities such as New York. This resulted in the emergence of the Brooklyn drill. Some of its most successful outlets are beyond American borders, such as Australia, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.
Origins of Drill Music
The origins of drill music go back to early 2010 when Atlanta’s trap music sound started seeping into the Chicago hip-hop scene:
- Start: Trap artists such as Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame had a strong influence over the flow and sound of drill music. However, like with a lot of hip-hop scenes, it was the culture of the environment in which it originated that actually shaped the drill sound.
The drill music genre drew upon the anarchic nature and frequent events of violence in some of Chicago’s South Side neighborhoods and their influence on the youth for its core sound and narrative.
- Coining of “Drill”: Pac-Man is attributed to be the first artist to reference “drill”—a term used to refer to a shooting – and the drill sound with his song “It’s a Drill” in 2010. His song became a template for future drill artists such as Chief Keef, whose song “I Don’t Like” and Kanye West’s remix brought this subgenre to national attention.
- Rising of Drill Music: Soon after, Chief Keef was signed to Interscope and joined King Louie (another drill music veteran) on Kanye West’s album Yeezus. The attention benefitted other drill rappers such as G Herbo, Lil Reese, Lil Durk, and Fredo Santana (late).
The prominence of the Chicago drill scene was short-lived as Interscope dropped Keef in 2014. However, he stayed active while drill music spread to other parts of the country and the globe. UK drill, influenced by electronic music genres like grime, Chicago drill, and life in tumultuous South London areas such as Brixton, became a prevalent force on the British charts starting from 2015. It also led to the spread of drill scenes in Ireland and Australia.
Drill Music Features
Here are some characteristics that define drill music in the US and globally:
Chicago drill music artists often sing the lyrics in deadpan, nearly monotone vocals that evoke their environment’s emotionally demanding atmosphere. The trap music’s influence is seen in the frequent auto-tune use to lend an emotionless and cold quality to the drill artists rapping. Nevertheless, UK drill and particularly Brooklyn drill avoid the use of auto-tune and have a preference for deliveries that are more expressive.
The primary wave of Chicago drill music was known for the violent matter in its lyrics and the bare-bones quality of its language. Artists used clever wordplay and metaphors in favor of a style that resembled emotionless recollection or reportage, which emphasizes the track’s sinister subject matter. Contemporary Chicago drill music artists have widened the subgenre’s lyrical focus, while both Brooklyn and UK drill have always adopted a wider songwriting palette.
Chicago drill music producers such as Young Chop, who supervised a lot of Keef’s hit songs, followed a model very much like trap music – stripped-down production, high use of the 808 drum machine beats, and a focus on catchy melodies adorned with brooding menace. Drill artists from the UK, such as Headie One, use faster beats and a higher focus on melody, while Brooklyn drill is differentiated by warmer production and booming delivery.
Well-Known Drill Music Artists
Many drill music artists have played a vital role in developing this subgenre. These include:
Undeniably the very first superstar of Chicago drill music, Keef’s “I Don’t Like” secured a Top 20 hit on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop songs chart. His bitter lyrics and unhurried, ad-libbed delivery eventually set the tone for drill music that eventually followed suit. Keef’s music was often overshadowed because of legal troubles and quarrels with other artists. However, his influence on 21st-century hip-hop is something that cannot be ignored.
After Pac-Man, Chicago-based rapper King Louie was one of the first promoters of drill music, creating songs such as “Gumbo Mobsters” in 2011 before Chief Keef brought the drill music scene to national attention. In 2015, he was signed to Epic Records. However, his career paused after he suffered a gunshot wound the very same year. Since then, he has returned to a prolific recording schedule.
Several media lists cite Lil Bibby as a must-watch performer almost immediately after he released his mixtape in 2013. His energetic flow and raspy delivery got him a deal with RCA records. But in 2017, he ceased performing to switch his attention to running his own record label named Grade A Records.
New York rapper Pop Smoke was a prominent figure in the Brooklyn drill music scene. However, his promising career was cut short because of gun violence. His rolling delivery and deep voice highlighted “Welcome to the Party,” a platinum-selling single from his first mixtape, Welcome to the Woo.
Fred Santana was a Chicago-based rapper and the elder cousin of Chief Keef. Moreover, he was the co-CEO of Keef’s record label Glory Boyz Entertainment. Santana released his first studio album, Trappin’ Ain’t Dead, in 2013.
He was usually popular amongst fans for his Trap music and also for his facial tattoos, which also included a cross on his forehead.
Are Drill and Trap Music the Same?
There are some similarities between Trap and Drill music. In fact, it can even be stated that Drill is a subgenre of Trap music. However, there are some differences that set the two apart.
Drill music is a subgenre of hip-hop music that originated in Chicago, and it’s led by Lil Bibby, King Louie, Lil Herb, and Chief Keef. It focuses on material success, violence, and everyday life in Chicago.
Conversely, Trap music is also a subgenre of hip-hop music. However, it originates from Atlanta. Led by rappers like Young Jeezy, Gucci Mane, trap music primarily focuses on material success, drug dealing, and women.
Last Few Words
The evolution of drill music from humble beginnings to becoming an international phenomenon simply highlights the interconnectivity of the world we live in.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.