By the early 2010s, Chicago drill had exploded in popularity, and its influence would soon spread across the pond to UK rappers. Artists in English cities like Brixton and London would start to add their own regional flair to the sound, often giving tracks a darker and more menacing tone. Given the genre’s popularity within socioeconomically-deprived communities, many popular UK drill artists have also had affiliations with local gangs. This connection between UK drill and crime has made the genre a ready target for English police. By 2015, law enforcement was cancelling concerts by drill artists and getting their videos banned from YouTube. While the scene’s detractors point to an abundance of nihilistic lyrics and gang-related activity, proponents suggest that UK drill is merely an outlet for a generation who grew up in poverty with little social support.
UK drill is indebted to both Chicago drill, and the colloquial accents and phrasing that British hip hop first brought. The harsh living conditions of impoverished English cities have also been a big influence in the genre’s lyrical content, like UK drill’s frequent references to knife related crimes. There tend to be elements of both American trap and grime incorporated into the genre’s style of MCing.
UK drill can sound similar to Chicago drill, with its booming drum beats programmed on 808 machines, fluttering hi-hat triplets, and menacing or epic-sounding synths. Vocally, UK drill is a blend of grime and early trap that prioritizes the rhythm of delivery and swagger of the performer over complex lyrical content. Unlike its American cousin, UK drill rarely features autotune.
67 – “Skeng Man”
Brixton, England, 2015
Rap group 67 was one of the first casualties of the country’s unofficial war on drill. Their first tour was shut down by police who feared violence would follow them from city to city, and they have since been labelled a criminal gang.
Big Shaq – “Man’s Not Hot”
Croydon, England, 2017
At a time when most of the UK drill scene was rapping about how many people they’d murdered, comedian Michael Dapaah’s character Big Shaq brags on “Man’s Not Hot” that no matter how warm it is, he never overheats.
Skengdo & AM – “Mad About Bars”
Brixton, England, 2017
On “Mad About Bars”, teenage rappers Skengdo and AM make multiple references to the police crack down on UK drill. In a controversial 2019 ruling, they were served a prison sentence for breaching a court injunction by performing one of their songs.
Dave & Fredo – “Funky Friday”
London, England, 2018
Dave effortlessly combines a classic stripped-down trap beat with the pointed lyrics of grime on “Funky Friday”, proving to any who listen why he’s one of the most popular MCs in the UK.
Headie One & Dave – “18HUNNA”
London, England, 2019
The chart-topping “18HUNNA” features UK drill superstars Headie One and Dave. It also rocked the 2019 twittersphere with the #18HUNNACHALLENGE, where fans would recreate Headie’s foreboding video trailer for the song..
Octavian ft. Skepta & Michael Phantom – “Bet”
London, England, 2019
The UK trap scene isn’t as big as its drill counterpart, but it still has managed to release some killer tracks like “Bet”.
DigDat & Aitch – “Ei8ht Mile”
London & Manchester, England, 2020
The relationship between grime and UK drill is very noticeable on the Eminem-inspired “Ei8ht Mile”.