In the early 2010s, the hip-hop subgenre called “drill music” emerged in the South Side of Chicago. The subgenre is very much associated with Trap music. Trap is another hip-hop subgenre that sprang out of Atlanta, Georgia. These two genres share the same predisposition for sluggish, gloomy environments. They also have a lyrical emphasis on the perils of criminal conduct.
How Drill Gained Prominence
Thanks to tracks like Chief Keef’s “I Don’t Like” in 2012, this culture transitioned from underground recordings to the general public in the middle of the 2010s. Subsequently, big-label artists in hip-hop, like Drake and Kanye West, embraced and popularized the drill sound. Rappers imported this style to other significant American cities, like New York, giving birth to the Brooklyn Drill.
Countries like the Netherlands, the UK, and Australia are other lucrative locations outside the United States. Tap artists like Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame significantly influenced this music’s sound. However, the culture of the area where the piece was created strongly influenced its sound. Drill music draws inspiration from the disorderly atmosphere, high rates of crime, and effects on young people in Chicago. This was particularly prevalent in the South Side neighborhood known as “Dro City” in the Woodlawn community.
Rapper Pac Man, a native of Dro City, is the very first artist to utilize the word “drill” and the sound in his 2010 song “It’s a Drill.” The violence ended his career the same year. Still, the song was a model for upcoming artists. Chief Keef’s 2012 hit “I Don’t Like” and accompanying Kanye West remix made drill music famous nationally. Soon after, Keef partnered with fellow music veteran King Louie on West’s 2013 album Yeezus after signing to the big label Interscope.
The publicity helped other rappers, including the late Fredo Santana, G Herbo, Lil Reese, and Lil Durk. Although Interscope dismissed Keef in 2014, the Chicago drill community continued to be active, and this style spread to other areas of the country and the world. UK drill draws inspiration from Chicago drill, grime, and the tumultuous South London districts of Brixton, became a dominant force on the British charts starting in 2015 and gave rise to Australia and Ireland scenes.
Chicago drill music often features a deadpan, somewhat monotonous vocal performance. This captures the emotionally depleting energy of the city. Musicians frequently use Auto-tune to give rappers a cold, emotionless tone, echoing the impact of trap music. However, UK and Brooklyn rappers avoid Auto-tune, favoring more passionate delivery.
Chicago drill producers like Young Chop, who oversaw many of Chief Keef’s hits, used 808 drum machine beats heavily (usually 60 to 70 BPM), stripped-down production, and a focus on ear-catching melodies embellished with brooding menace. This style is similar to trap music. Loud vocals and warmer production characterize the Brooklyn style, whereas the UK style musicians like Headie One use quicker beats and significantly emphasize melody.
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