What is Drill Music: Is It Just A Fad? Or The Birth Of Hip Hop 2.0?

Published on 05 September 2022

Disclaimer: The information in this article is provided by the guest blogger and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of guitarguitar.


There’s no getting around it - Drill music has been at the foot of a LOT of criticism, ever since its debut back in 2010.

All it takes is a quick search around online to see that drill has been the source of a great deal of controversy. Aside from inciting gang violence and street crime, Drill tunes have earned themselves a reputation. One that has led the genre to be described by MPs as “too authentic” while across the pond, the mayor of New York drew comparisons to President Trump’s Twitter ban.

“We pulled Trump off Twitter because of what he was spewing. Yet we are allowing music, displaying of guns, violence, we're allowing it to stay on these sites”.

But yet, despite all the media backlash and numerous calls for the genre to be banned, Drill music isn’t showing any signs of dying out. In contrast, it’s actually proving to be one of (if not ‘the’) most popular strains of Hip Hop to date! Its influence has been so significant that some wouldn’t even class a track as modern Hip Hop if it doesn’t include at least one 808 slide - a hallmark of any Drill tune.

The question is though, will this popularity remain? Could this controversial micro genre actually be the birth of Hip Hop 2.0?


The Drill Sound in a Nutshell…

So, what is drill music? The easiest way to think of the Drill sound is Hip Hop - just a lot less busy.

Compare the arrangement and patterns of Drill to that of classical Hip Hop, and you immediately get a sense of space. Drill beats, however, preach minimalism. Rapid pace aside (140 BPM is by no means slow), they do give an artist a surprising amount of breathing room. Mixed right, Drill beats can be the perfect backdrop for any lyrical rapper.

And that’s all despite them relying on the same instruments as that of conventional Hip Hop. Most are comprised of a hard-hitting bass (typically Roland 808s, which in the case of Drill have a tendency to slip & slide) as well as a few hi-hats and a simple melody. Not that it makes Drill production an easy gig though - anything but!

Some argue that producing Drill is a level up from conventional Hip Hop. Not only does its minimalism put stress on the accuracy and precision of pretty much every note, it also makes it substantially harder to manufacture beats that have their own distinct vibe. As any creatives will know - the tighter the conventions, the trickier the task.

This is most likely the reason why, in recent years, producers have diversified the Drill sound by fusing it with elements of numerous other genres. All of which has given birth to a whole host of new ‘drill-esque’ vibes and waves, which have dragged the Drill sound kicking and screaming from the underground, into the mainstream spotlight; UK Drill scored its first No. 1 last summer with various other strains of Drill following suit.

A big achievement, especially for a genre that started life in the depths of YouTube.


Straight Outta the UK: The Latest ‘Drill-esque’ Vibes…

If there was one word to describe Drill, it’d be ‘multipurpose’.

Because when you really look at it, the Drill sound has done what no other form of music is yet to accomplish - it has fingers in virtually every pie!! Ask any Hip Hop producer and they’ll tell you, there’s pretty much a ‘Drill-mix’ for every genre.

So really, you could say Drill is (if anything) becoming more of musical style than anything. To help you understand what we’re getting at, here are just a few breeds of Drill-mixes which have been tearing up both the underground, and the charts…


Sinatra, eat your heart out - say hello to Jazz Drill

Although smooth Jazz would likely be the last sound you’d associate with Drill, you could also label it as the perfect balance of yin and yang. Switch out the traditional piano melody for the jazzy tones of a Sax or French Horn, and the vibe you create really is something else. A beat that’s laid back, yet still packs the notorious punch you expect from a Drill beat.


RnB/Melodic Drill’s here to tug your heartstrings

If the title wasn’t already enough of a giveaway, this isn’t just Drill. It’s Drill that plays with your emotions.

Gone are the dark and eerie tones of your traditional Drill beats, in place of airy soundscapes and a whole load of bounce. The melodies in this breed of Drill are the star of the show! This is easily one of the most lighthearted forms of Drill you’ll come across.

Probably why it’s no stranger to the charts… or TikTok for that matter. The energetic, but wavy buzz you get from this strain of Drill makes it the perfect backdrop for a dreamy love song.


Yee-haw Cowboy - get ready for Guitar Drill

If you’ve heard of Central Cee, then say no more - you’ll be familiar with this vibe of Drill.

Guitar Drill is what happens when hi-hats and the notorious sliding 808s are fused with an ensemble of intricate guitar tones - usually acoustic - to create a vibe that’s almost Western in feel. Perhaps the reason why Central Cee’s debut EP was named “Wild West”?

But cowboy vibes aside, Guitar Drill is arguably one of the most characterful strains of Drill you’ll come across. Especially when backed by brass instruments. As far as depth goes, Guitar Drill really is on the money.


Fancy a throwback? Check out Sampled Drill

If you’re one for nostalgia then this is a vibe you’ll really dig.

Think of sampled Drill as a throwback - a way of producers repurposing a classic tune to rekindle a bit of that ‘new school-old skool’ flavour. A trend that at the moment, seems to be proving incredibly popular, among both mainstream and underground artists.

And while (usually) the sample in question resembles the old skool chorus, don’t be fooled into thinking that rappers are trying to make their life easier by only having to write their verses. In many cases of Sampled Drill, rappers will lay lyrics over the top to add an extra layer of vocals.

Simple, yet clever. Most likely why Sample Drill is poppin’ in the charts.


Is Drill Music the birth of a new era? Or just another fad?

It’s an interesting question, and one where a lot of you are going to be at lock-heads. See, at the end of the day, this really all comes back to what you define as Drill.

If Drill to you is the street-style gangsta rap that came about in the early 2010s, then yes - it’s likely that (through your eyes) the Drill scene is fading out pretty fast. The masked machete-holding supervillains of early Drill tunes are becoming thin on the ground, with Drill tracks being pounced upon by more conventional-looking rap stars.

So in some respects, you could say the gritty realism (for which it was criticised) has started to diminish. Drill music today is a lot more PG - i.e. chart-worthy. And that’s the thing… while it appears the lure of traditional Drill is beginning to fade, when it comes to the Drill sound, it’s really just beginning.

With producers now opening up so many avenues, including those waves above, it really feels like that (for the Drill sound at least) this is the beginning of the road. The time where the genre takes that BIG leap from the streets, into the midst of the mainstream media.

So yes, it’s quite the controversial genre. And yes - few tracks which are labelled ‘Drill’ are a patch on those that have passed when it comes to pure realism and raw grit. BUT, when you look at where producers are taking the sound, you have to admit that all of this really does feel like a repeat of the 80s. Because of Drill, Hip Hop is more fresh, varied and versatile than ever before!

So if you’re wondering whether the Drill sound = Hip Hop 2.0, we’d undoubtably answer that with a “yes”. In fact, we’d say it’s a cause to celebrate…

(Drum roll)

As we’ve now entered the next Golden Era.


Author: Alex Harrison

Bio: Alex Harrison is a PR & Media agent with a focus on getting the voice & music of independent artists heard. Before quitting his job to become a music marketeer, he headed-up content campaigns for major brands, as part of one of the UK’s leading digital agencies.

Here are some similar articles you might like