Whereas the ‘trap’ genre name first came from the drug world, ‘drill’ is a slang term that means to shoot someone. Unsurprisingly, drill music focuses more on violence for the sake of violence than trap’s drug dealing lyrics. The impetus for drill’s gritty violence first came from the streets of Chicago, a city that continues to be plagued by high gun murder rates. Drill came into its own around the early 2010s, when artists like Chief Keef skyrocketed the popularity of the sound far beyond Chicago thanks in large part to digital distribution techniques.
The Atlanta rap scene was a huge influence for Chicago drill, especially the hard-spitting, chart-topping tracks coming out from artists like Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame. The popular Southern sound helped build an appetite for local, grittier productions among young Chicagoan listeners and artists alike. The digital pitch correction softwares (e.g. Auto-Tune) being used by artists like Soulja Boy and Lil Wayne to create their cold, alien vocals also helped build the drill sound. One of the first artists to self-identify as a drill rapper was the late Pac man, who dropped tracks like “It’s a Drill Man” before his 2010 passing. Drill has seen its fair share of public controversy due to its violent reputation, and a newer wave of (somewhat) tamer drill artist personas have emerged in response.
The trademark hi-hat from Atlanta trap isn’t as common in drill, but the same slow, head-nodding beats laying underneath often violent lyrics about inner city life are very much present. Lyrics tend to be simplistic, with less concern for showing complex metaphors than other hip hop genres. Instead, drill artists are concerned with conveying a dangerous feeling, helped in large part by deadpan, dark, and even murderous vocal deliveries. Drill rappers also tend to be young, although more recent wave drill has been latched onto by older, more established artists.
King Louie & Bo$$ Woo – “Gumbo Mobsters”
Chicago, Illinois, 2011
King Louie was a friend of the late Pac Man. He helped the drill sound live on with tracks like “Gumbo Mobsters”.
Shady – “Go In”
Chicago, Illinois, 2011
Female artists have played a big part in the drill genre even since its early days, like the viral “Go In” by Shady.
Chief Keef & Lil Reese – “I Don’t Like”
When Kanye discovered Chief Keef’s “I don’t Like it” online and did a remix, it turned the seventeen-year-old into a star overnight.
Katie Got Bandz ft. King Louie – “Pop Out”
Katie Got Bandz had a brief lived but influential trap career, with her “Pop Out” collab hitting 3 million views on YouTube by 2020.
Young Pappy – “Killa”
The late Young Pappy takes a highly aggressive approach in “Killa”, with hollered lyrics laid over a classic trap beat supported by idiosyncratic Queen samples.
FBG Duck – “Slide”
Chicago, Illinois, 2017
This track alternates between soft-spoken threats and screaming jeers for a disturbing, yet captivating, effect.