New York City’s drill scene has exploded, bringing the genre to wider audiences and spawning a new generation of rappers. But the same music that gives these young artists a platform to express themselves can also put them at risk of violence and criminal charges, as well as police surveillance. It’s no secret that the New York City Police Department has a close relationship with its hip-hop community, and the NYPD has been known to spy on rappers’ social media accounts to keep tabs on their actions.
As a result, it’s become commonplace for rappers to be arrested while they’re trying to get their names out there and make some money. For example, a few months ago, the NYPD raided the home of Brooklyn-based rapper Bizzy Banks in an attempt to find evidence of drug dealing and weapons possession, and they’ve reportedly been on his trail since. The arrest is just the latest of many for Banks, who’s spent time in Rikers Island and was arrested last year on assault and weapons charges.
Since the early 2010s, drill has been a sub-genre of rap defined by its use of dark beats and aggressive beats influenced by Atlanta trap music. The style was popularized by Chicago rappers like Chief Keef, Lil Durk and G Herbo, who rapped about their own experiences with poverty, crime and gang violence. The music soon traveled across the country and overseas, infusing U.K. grime and garage rap with its own unique energy, while local scenes forged their own sounds.
Drill rap’s evocative lyrics and gritty delivery are what set it apart from mainstream hip-hop, which often celebrates a rise to wealth and has a much softer, melodic sound. Drill rappers are also more candid about the violence and other hardships they face in their neighborhood communities, with songs such as “Ear Bleed” highlighting the shooting death of a 14-year-old boy named Notti Osama.
Diss tracks and songs mocking the dead have always been part of the drill genre, but the scale and intensity of the attacks in New York are unprecedented. Several of the city’s leading drill rappers are teens, and the violence has been fueled by their competition for attention online.
Despite the brutality of their worlds, these young artists aren’t shy about making bold claims about their future. But the retaliation and the killings that come with it have threatened their ability to pursue their dreams.
In Philadelphia, where a murder trial over the killing of a 14-year-old by a fellow drill MC sparked a debate about the influence of music in criminal trials, a group of local artists and activists have worked to promote an alternative that doesn’t involve violent feuding or racial profiling. They host a monthly competition called “How Dope Are You?” where musicians, poets and spoken word performers compete for cash prizes. Performers must adhere to strict rules, including that no song or performance can contain swear words or any mention of drugs, sex or violence. drill rap radio