Drill has put in a lot of groundwork as a genre. The essentials are set – sub-bass 808s, hi-hat drum taps, low BPM, menacing atmospherics, and spaced-out arrangements. From Chicago to New York to London, there’s a constancy to drill, like a national accent that doesn’t alter across a vast land. However, now the rules are established, they’re there to be broken.
Since the late 2010s, UK drill in particular has been mutating. Recent releases have brought in more R&B, afroswing, and grime. It’s upped the BPM and began to experiment with pop sensibilities at times. As a result, UK drill is in a glorious period of fragmentation, with the centre destabilising in front of us, allowing individuals to flourish.
In 2021, UK drill figureheads Headie One, Digga D, Unknown T, K-Trap, Tion Wayne, and OFB all released career-best projects. As a result, drill is knocking on the door of the mainstream, with Unknown T’s verse on FKA Twigs’ recent mixtape surely the first of many. He joins Tion Wayne and Headie One, who are already established names (just don’t put them on the same plane together).
But beneath the absolute top tier, there is a horde of bustling talent from across the country trying to break through – M1llionz in Birmingham, Fizzler in Leeds, and OFB’s Bandokay in London (the son of Mark Duggan, whose death at the hands of the police led to the 2011 riots).
However, perhaps there is no hotter location for drill right now than the wild, wild west of London, with brothers Horrid1 and Sav’O of CGM two of its premier acts, and their debut mixtape Violent Siblings a savage statement of intent.
Bespeckled with drill’s customary funereal organs, piano, and looped samples of cherubic singing, the 13-track project is a supreme tour de force that oozes palatable paranoia. While steeped in drill’s fundamentals, what distinguishes Violent Siblings is its exhilarating quickening of the pace, with fewer silences between 808s, allowing the duo to flow quicker and more adeptly over a smorgasbord of beats. Telling less a story of desensitised danger, and instead reverberating a constant chaos.
In ‘Action’, the syncopated beat acts as a catalyst for the brothers’ flare for enunciated and punctuated spitting to flourish. Full of rising pitches that precipitate gunfire bars, the lyrical performance hides the melancholia flowing beneath, with stories of mothers losing their children to violence told bluntly, unremorsefully, and in plain language, like if Samuel Beckett penned bars not plays.
‘Bine’, featuring fellow CGM member and UK drill frontrunner Digga D, is even more turned-up. A topsy-turvy beat, anchored by a Kenny G-like sultry sax, coils itself around the track which has all three rappers running way over traditional eight-bars to paint potent portraits of living on the infamous Portobello estate they all grew up on.
The intensity rachets up throughout the record, with the bleakest track ‘Wildest’ unsparing in the rationalisation of unceasing violence, “I’m from a block where bells get pressed / And mans gets chef’d / I can’t lie it’s a mess / But what can I say it’s the wild wild west.”
However, for all the sombre and sonorous depictions of grind and violence, not every track is steeped in drilly dread. ‘Ready’ basks in the bouncy brilliance of afro-drill that harks back to Kennington artist Loski’s ‘Forrest Gump’, with slides flowing throughout. ‘Keep Talkin’ is raucously upbeat, the 808s infiltrated by jaunty dining-room murder mystery piano and a deeply compressed drum tom.
The truth is that as such a nascent genre of music in the UK, drill really is no country for old men, and when the old-guard still isn’t even close to touching 30, the younger artists are having to go harder, faster, and explore areas untouched to get noticed. This is a blueprint on how to do it. This is the shape of drill to come. And it’s coming sooner than you think.
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