It’s a tragedy that New York-area rapper Pop Smoke, who died at the age of only 20 last year, wasn’t around to see his ascent to widespread global fame. Still, the influence he left behind has given birth to one of hip-hop’s most exciting new sounds. And while many saw Drake’s emotional takeover of hip-hop as the end of gangsta rap, New York drill is resurrecting it with a modernized style.
The term “drill” has been around since the early goings of last decade, first taking off in Chicago and spreading around the world in slightly different formats; the New York variant is easily the most distinctive. Drill music offers a spin on the popular trap sound with slower tempos and gut rumbling bass, creating an eerie, horror-inspired backdrop to lyrics about violent street life. When you get to the Big Apple, Pop Smoke and his contemporaries made things even more menacing by multilayering their deep, husky vocals.
The most creative and experimental aspect, however, is the percussion. Hi-hats pop up almost indiscriminately in the mix like an unpredictable hail of bullets, giving things a stuttered, jerky energy throughout. Rapper Bobby Shmurda is a prophet of sorts concerning the style’s rise to popularity and with his recent release from prison after six years of incarceration, the genre has nowhere to go but up.
Here are six rising stars in the New York drill scene.
Fivio Foreign was the first person Drake turned to when he wanted to test out the NY drill sound on last year’s Dark Lane Demo Tapes. With a litany of memorable catchphrases and ad-libs, Foreign was named in the 2020 XXL Freshman Class, historically a huge prognosticator of future success. Foreign says he learned everything from the late Pop Smoke, and is likely the closest thing you’ll find to Pop’s brand of hazy and desensitized delivery.
An original member of the Bobby Shmurda-led hip-hop collective GS9, Rebel similarly spent an extended period of time in prison before being released to a boom in popularity for his sound. While drill music is typically known for its slower pace as the artists make sure every word hits hard, Rebel’s technical prowess and diversions into piling syllables on top of each other in rapid-fire are a pleasant surprise. Rebel might be one of the first to gain a huge following based on features delivered over a prison phone call, but he’s out now and ready to wreak havoc.
In a truly eerie but stunning twist of fate, Pop Smoke spoke of his admiration for 23-year-old rapper Bizzy Banks’ music on a radio show in his final public appearance before his death. One year later, Banks is looking like the future of New York drill. Born and raised in one of Brooklyn’s most notoriously dangerous neighbourhoods, Banks’ lyrics can be shockingly raw and believable as he brings some reckless youthful energy to the style.
With the immediately infectious TikTok-fuelled hit “Whoopty,” CJ might have landed the biggest song yet in the New York drill style. Cracking the Billboard Top 10 in February, CJ will be looking to pivot the song’s success into infusing the sound with a worldly influence. With Puerto Rican heritage and a penchant for sampling popular tracks from all over the globe – “Whoopty” found its beat from Indian icon Arijit Singh – CJ is the most social media-conscious of the new crop.
Although her stage name might evoke some West Coast flair, Maliibu Miitch was raised in the South Bronx and her distinctly gritty tone echoes all of the struggles that came along with it. Her instrumentals might lean a little more old-school boom-bap, but Miitch’s blunt lyricism, layered vocals, and husky delivery are pure drill and have been championed by critics for challenging the perception of how a female rapper should sound.
With a name inspired by the classic New York-centric horror tale of the Headless Horseman, the 21-year-old Sleepy Hallow’s music can be equally chilling. While his darker tracks bolster the usual minimalistic drill soundscapes with unnerving vocal samples, sinister violins and the kind of rising distortion that hooks you before a jumpscare, Hallow also has a much more melodic side. Impressively, many of his biggest tracks are freestyles.
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