For casual listeners, the most recognisable link between New York’s now thriving Drill scene and our own distinctly British iteration of the genre is the late, destined-to-be great Pop Smoke’s work with Ilford producer 808Melo. Brooklynite Pop’s commanding, raspy delivery and his ability to oscillate between menace and charm, coupled with Melo’s masterful productions made 2019’s ‘Meet the Woo’ an instant classic.
With Pop Smoke’s tragic murder in February, the assumption might’ve been that the transatlantic Drill connection would fizzle out. Regardless of what you think of the track, Drake jumping on M1OnTheBeat’s eerie production a couple of weeks ago, and getting comprehensively spun by Tottenham’s Headie One was a statement that this relationship is in-fact getting stronger.
The truth is these waters run deep, exemplified by organically developed bonds built on mutual respect. Nor are they as simple as New York Drillers jumping on British producer’s beats. Below are four key cuts which highlight the complexity and depth of our cold island’s special relationship with the US when it comes to the all-conquering sonics of Drill.
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Skengdo x AM & Chief Keef - 'Pitbulls'
Taken from Skengdo x AM’s 2018 tape ‘Greener on the Other Side’, ‘Pitbulls’ sees two of UK Drill’s pioneers link-up with and pay homage to the certified Godfather of Chicago Drill. It probably didn’t get the flowers it deserved at the time, but looking back it is a track with real historical significance.
If you consider the stratospheric heights that Drill is now climbing towards, Chief Keef is undoubtedly one of the last decade’s most influential Rap figures. When the sounds of Chicago Drill reached South London, Skengdo x AM’s uncompromising bars helped mould it into something more reflective of the blocks and estates this side of the Atlantic, and bore the brunt of the predictable moral panic when UK Drill began to gather pace in its own right.
‘Pitbulls’ production is also an intercontinental effort, between American Pnoonz and our own JB Made It from Croydon’s ‘Finesse Foreva’ camp, with an ominous piano-led melody lurking throughout. Keef’s verse is full of the Chiraq swagger he built his name on, and AM’s icy “Mind how you talk on the phone, my two pit-bulls walk around on their own” hook is hard to forget.
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22Gz - 'Suburban, Pt. 2'
‘Suburban, Pt. 2’ dropped last winter, which is fitting because the track is a bitterly cold reply to fellow Flatbush native Sheff G’s ‘No Suburban’ which in-turn was a response to the original ‘Suburban’, arguably the template for Brooklyn’s Drill sound. East London’s AXL Beats expertly handled production for both the original and ‘No Suburban’ but for me, the Ghosty produced ‘Suburban, Pt. 2’ is the standout.
Again, hailing from the impressive Finesse Foreva camp, Ghosty has worked with some of UK Drill’s biggest, brightest stars and masterminded Digga D’s infamous, bass-heavy ‘No Diet’.
It’s the bass which carries ‘Suburban, Pt. 2’, brooding and muscular, providing the ideal backdrop for 22Gz hard hitting boasts and threats. A more melodic offering wouldn’t have worked here; the chilly steel of the Flatbush rapper’s bars needed to be matched by an equally steely instrumental, and Ghosty did not miss.
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Unknown T - 'Deh Deh'
As mentioned above, the transatlantic Drill connection can’t be simplified down to a US artist / UK producer dynamic.
Unknown T burst onto the UK Drill scene with the speaker-rattling ‘Homerton B’ which became the genre’s first true commercial success. From that point onwards, he’s made huge strides in diversifying his sound and his recent ‘Rise Above Hate’ mixtape is a showcase of genuine versatility.
The project’s lead single ‘Deh Deh’ sees T’s intricately structured, phonetic flows glide effortlessly over New York producer 800 Hertz’ warm keys. There’s often an unmistakable American grandiosity to New York Drill, characterised by luxurious textures which contrast starkly with the lyrical content. T taps into this energy and the final product is transcendental, trap-leaning Drill.
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G4 Boyz feat G4choppa - 'Prada'
Staten Island’s G4 Boyz (Buggy and Ice Baby) are currently pioneering an uproarious Drill version of ‘Scam Rap’, which zooms in on the problematic yet profitable world of credit card fraud.
The relatively untapped subject matter of their breakout hit ‘Local Scammer’ wasn’t the only thing that stood out; the New Yorker’s recruited London Driller G4choppa to jump on London duo FNR Beats’ textbook UK Drill production. G4choppa's contribution was a real expansion of British influence on a New York Drill track.
‘Prada’ dropped last week, and if something ain’t broke, don’t fix it. G4 Boyz repeat the trick, with a pair of bouncy verses full of West African inflections which speak to their Nigerian and Ghanian heritage, bridged via G4choppa’s gravel-toned hook. FNR Beats’ production is again pleasingly minimalist, bass-led UK Drill. The infectious blend points towards the future of the genre; one which is truly global.
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Words: Robert Kazandjian
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