The drill genre might have emerged on the streets of Chicago in the early 2010s, but since then, it’s reached across the globe, had a massive influence on the sound of modern hip-hop and evolved into many sub-genres.
From its beginnings as a raw, gritty offshoot of trap music, drill’s differentiator was confronting lyrics, beef tracks, gang themes, simplified bass-forward production and a lack of autotuned vocals.
Drill’s forefathers included Chicago rappers King Louie, Young Chop and Lil Durk, while Chief Keef forced drill into the mainstream with singles such as ‘I Don't Like’ in 2012. Big-league artists, including Drake and Kanye West embraced the sound (the latter remixed 'I Don't Like' in 2013), and soon, drill scenes were popping up across the US and Europe.
By 2015, New York was developing its own drill sound with Brooklyn at the epicentre. And as the scene exploded, artists like Sheff G and 22Gz led the charge. A critical track to the genre’s development was 2016’s ‘Suburban’ by Brooklyn rapper 22Gz, which featured a uniquely dramatic production style by London-based producer AXL Beats. The track's distinct sound with ominous church bells and grime influence came to define the sound of NY Drill, and cemented AXL Beats as a sought-after beatmaker.
To a wider audience, the scene’s standard bearer was Pop Smoke. Pop’s deep, distinctive voice had shades of 50 Cent, and it commanded attention both within and beyond the NY Drill scene. His 2019 hit ‘Welcome to the Party’ evolved NY Drill, making the street-focused genre more accessible – even fun. Such was his cross-genre appeal that even Nicki Minaj jumped on a remix of ‘Welcome’.
However, in a violent twist, Pop Smoke was killed in 2020, just as his career looked set to go stratospheric. However, his label released two posthumous albums, (controversially) drafting in pop talent, including Dua Lipa, and bringing the NY Drill sound to a global audience.
As the sound continues to develop, other genre features have emerged, namely the practice of overtly sampling famous tracks – which itself is a feature borrowed from Jersey Club.
The NY Drill scene has also welcomed more female rappers in recent years, namely Ice Spice, whose 2022 earworm ‘Munch (Feelin’ U)’ which charted at #5 on the Billboard chart. This style is sometimes referred to as “Sexy Drill” and is championed by Cash Cobain and Chow Lee with more female-friendly lyrical themes, and often features samples from fondly-remembered R&B hits.
In 2023, NY Drill’s influence on hip hop and the wider music scene in New York – through its various sub-genres and cross-overs – has never been greater.
Here are some artists and tracks you should know if you’re coming to NY Drill in 2023:
In 2018, 22Gz downloaded a track from AXL Beats to use for a new song. Despite AXL being a producer from London, whose style was influenced by garage and grime music, 22Gz thought the track had a distinctly New York sound. The song, called ‘Suburban,’ combined a UK Drill beat with NY lyrics and themes – which was an impactful combination. ‘Suburban’ is considered a milestone for the NY Drill genre and is an archetype of the genre's sound.
In April 2019, Pop Smoke released his debut single from his first mixtape, Meet The Woo. It had an instant impact on the NY Drill genre. With his unique breathy baritone voice and support from A&R veteran Steven Victor, Pop Smoke was poised to bring NY Drill to the world at large. It all began with his partnership with London-based producer 808 Melo. Interestingly, 808 Melo's involvement is probably why we can detect traces of UK Grime in the song with our tagging AI.
Similar to other NY Drill rappers further down this list, Sha Ek also began releasing music when he was just 15. Raised in the Bronx and with Honduran roots, Sha Ek is known for his aggressive vocal style and unconventional sample choices, which set his music apart. The song ‘O to the G’ has a faster tempo of 155BPM (or 77.5 BPM, depending on perception), which gives it a unique vibe and leads to it being tagged as part of the trap genre, as well as being associated with moods like rage and restlessness.
DD Osama, who is only 16 years old, is an up-and-coming artist in the NY Drill scene – and he knows it. His track 'Upnow', is all about his growing fame. He's also teamed up with talented rapper/singer Coi Leray, who is currently enjoying international success with her song ‘Players,’ which notably samples Grandmaster Flash's ‘The Message.’ Although the track has a more radio-friendly sound, by sticking with a tempo of 142BPM, the track easily blends with other drill tracks, which tend to sit around 70 or 140BPM.
Another young artist coming out of the NY Drill scene is Bouba Savage. Hailing from Brooklyn, this 17-year-old has impressed by landing collabs with Lil Uzi Vert, specifically on ‘Win A Lot’, released in January. With his half-sung, half-rapped style, and strong R&B influence, the track falls under the umbrella of “Sexy Drill”. Plus, its faster tempo is another example of how the genre is evolving.
Ice Spice is an important figure in the NY Drill scene, and any discussion of the genre in 2023 would be incomplete without mentioning her. Hailing from the Bronx, she is among the few female rappers in a predominantly male-dominated scene. Her distinct and memorable hooks, impressive flow, and more accessible lyrics bring a unique energy that has gained her popularity not just in New York City but beyond, as evidenced by her Billboard chart success.
[Additional backgrounding and research provided by Drea Jackson and Matt Fishwick.]
Check out more NY Drill artists in SoundCloud's curated playlist below.
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