UK Drill Producers Are Re-Writing The Rules

Breaking down some of 2020's most vital tracks...

In an abundance of ways, 2020 has been a most horrible year. But if we’re talking Black British music here in the UK, it’s been a huge one.

The continued development and popularisation of UK Drill has played a significant part in this. The year kicked off with Stormzy replying to Godfather of Grime Wiley’s ‘Eediyat Skengman’ diss over 808Melo’s iconic, infamous ‘Know Better’ production, a UK Drill staple. 

While industry heavyweights jumping on the sound might signify the scene’s growing impact, the young artists and producers pushing UK Drill onwards sonically while retaining its grassroots, gritty energy are the true story of 2020.

Below are four of the hottest Drill cuts from the last few months, with props given to the producers behind the beats filling our headphones and rattling our speakers.

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teeway – 'Private Ryan'

South Norwood’s teeway is one of the scene’s standout rappers, and an emerging great storyteller in any genre. On ‘Private Ryan’ he spares no detail in his description of road life, smoothly navigating Sebz Beats’ haunting piano-led production.

‘Private Ryan’ is a real collaborative piece, with the artist and producer enjoying a working relationship for a couple of years. “teeway has a very good musical knowledge … He would ring me and say, ‘I want this note changed on the 808 slide’ or ‘I want this snare patterned to sound like this,’ so I’ve always found it easy to work with him ‘cos he knows what he’s talking about and he’s very direct with it.”

There were lots of changes made to the initial version. “I won’t lie, I think I had to bounce the beat down eight different times, just so I could get it right.” 

The masterstroke is Sebz’ use of a half-time speed on the loop. “It brought like a different kind of vibe to the whole track … everything just slows down a bit with the melody and then it comes back up for the hook.” This change of pace ensures the unflinching honesty of bars like “Bando livin', I'm shattered / I’m wakin' up to the junkies shaggin’,” are absorbed by the listener.

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V9 & KO – 'Right Or Wrong'

V9’s 'Yūdokuna' tape confirms the Homerton Driller has an impeccable ear for beats. A personal standout is ‘Right or Wrong’ which sees the masked rapper go back-to-back with stablemate KO over a melody which lets you imagine the two sharpening their lyrical tools inside a karate dojo.

18-year old producer ES was raised on a wide range of sounds, from Turkish folk music to reggae, and was busy adding effects to songs and calling them remixes as a nine year old. “I found the sample [for ‘Right or Wrong’] online and I liked the way it sounded because it was Oriental. It wasn’t your usual melody you’d hear on a Drill beat.”

He added drums to give the track the necessary bounce and then a bass-line to compliment that. The final product sets the perfect backdrop for the sparring between two of the scene's most refreshing voices, with KO's punchline-heavy bars an ideal foil for V9's charged up attacks.

The beauty of young producers' involvement in the scene is they are often fans of the artists they work with. “When I finished the beat I thought of V9, because he has a lot of music using Japanese references. He calls himself the Homerton Sensei.” 

ES is one of a growing number of producers using more melodic samples in their work. “I’d say it’s becoming more pop-enthused because the Drill genre is becoming more popular. It has a wider audience at the moment and I feel like it still has a long way to go.”

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M1llionz – 'Y Pree'

M1llionz’ instantly recognisable tone and Patois-laced bars have rapidly propelled him to the forefront of UK Drill. ‘Y Pree’ is his biggest hit to date, with the Hargo-produced instrumental providing an ideal platform for the Birmingham rapper to showcase his unique flow, melding distinctly Brummie street-knowledge and Jamaican sensibilities. 

Hargo's production unfolds with the menace of a traditional UK Drill cut, held together by an ominous piano-loop. M1llionz isn’t fighting for space on the beat, finding pockets to rap in and expertly hustling extra syllables into bars. 

When we’re three minutes deep, a sublime switch-up pushes the track into new territory. The key modulates up and we soar into a final minute of raucous upbeat energy, complete with dancehall cadences which point towards the building blocks of Black British music.

This switch-up is a piece of genius from Hargo, emphasising the blending of sounds which make M1llionz such an exciting artist to listen to.

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Kwengface – 'Auntie'

Zone 2’s Kwengface is famed for his uncompromising, in-your-face bars. His latest offering ‘Auntie’ extends that reputation, but this time the Peckham Driller is riding a string-heavy, bass-laden production from 20 year old 3Lack.

He’s only been in the game for a year but can already boast production credits for upcoming tracks from OFB’s Bandokay and Harlem Spartan’s Blanco. 3Lack discovered the violin sample on Youtube, was immediately hooked on it and got to work. He posted the beat on his own YouTube channel and within a couple of days Kwengface requested it be sent his way.

“It was only when I saw it on his SnapChat story that I realised maybe this was happening.” The necessary agreements were made and ‘Auntie’ was unleashed. It’s this DIY approach that made the first wave of Grime so special, and despite the genre’s growth, UK Drill remains similarly organic.

There’s a beautiful musicality to the violin-led melody which contrasts starkly with Kwengface’s unrelenting rawness on the mic. So when he drops a bar like “The way that I'm stuck in the trap / More time I forget I'm a artist don,” it carries surprising emotional weight.

The choice of melody adds another dimension to the nuance of Drill lyrics.  3Lack has moved away from making the more traditional, ghoulish piano-heavy beats towards more melodic productions. “I believe that the era of those dark piano melodies is kind of coming to an end now … so you just gotta get ahead of the game and if you stick to what you’re doing, hopefully it’s where the trend will go.”

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Words: Robert Kazandjian

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