What Exactly Is Drill Music? (Aesthetic, Artists & Examples) 

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  • Learn a brief history of Drill music 
  • Learn about the characteristics of the genre
  • How has the genre changed since the 2010s? 
  • Also, check out our post on trap music

This sub-genre is one of the darkest in rap with its sometimes violent lyrics, ominous style beats, and heavy 808s. Its link to gangs and violence has been prominent since its creation. 

Drill music has evolved over the last decade since its emergence in the 2010s. In this article, we will cover the history of the genre, some music examples, and what characteristics make a track Drill. 

A Brief History of Drill 

Drill music first emerged in the early 2010s out of South Chicago. King Louie was one of the pioneers of the Chicago Drill scene, taking a lot of inspiration from the Trap rap scene in Atlanta.

One of the biggest differences between the two genres is the lyrics. The lyrical focus of trap music is the drug world, whereas Drill music was heavily focused on violence.  

However, it was PacMan who first used the word “drill” in his lyrics. Initially, the word didn’t have violent implications and was used broadly to describe a number of instances. Listen to how PacMan uses the word in his song “It’s A Drill.”

It wasn’t until the mid-2010s that we saw Drill coined as a genre. And this is where the genre began to take a more violent turn and merge into the genre as we know it today. One artist who influenced this change in the genre was Chief Keef.

Chief Keef pushed the envelope regarding violence in Drill. His song aptly named “Killer” is an excellent example of this, with lyrics like “Aye Ballout, go get the auto (Bang bang) and toast his lil a** like he was Aiki (Bang Bang).” 

Chief Keef is one of the reasons Drill became categorized as a violent genre regarding its style and use of lyrics. 

Alongside the rise of the Chicago Drill scene came the emergence of drill rap in Brooklyn. One of the artists that put Brooklyn on the map was Bobby Shmurda with his song “Hot Ni**a,” which peaked at #6 on Billboards Hot 100.

The song has since amassed over 800 million views on YouTube, making it one of the most significant drill songs to date. 

Following Bobby Shmurda’s success in 2019, we saw the rise of Pop Smoke. Pop Smoke was a drill rapper who redefined the sound of Brooklyn Drill.

Pop Smoke led drill music to new heights in terms of mainstream success, and the late rapper had achieved six platinum records throughout his short-lived career. 

In 2015 we saw the introduction to Drill in the UK, which has quickly become one of the country’s biggest genres. The UK drill scene has been inspired by its Chicago origins and sister genre Grime.

It was the rap group 150 who supposedly first brought Drill rap to the UK. However, they still drew a heavy influence from the Chicago drill scene. The group “67” pioneered the new sound that we know as the UK Drill sound today.

This is where more violent lyrics permeated the UK rap scene. A good example of this is their song “Splash and Cash.” 

Unfortunately, the violence from Drill lyrics sometimes seeps into the real world and has a dark past concerning its artists. There have been numerous occasions over the years where artists have fallen victim to this kind of violence.

Some big names such as Pop Smoke and King Von are just a few of the many who have sadly lost their lives in the industry. 

What Is A Drill Beat?


The lyrics to Drill music want to take center stage, so the production is typically bare bones. However, you may be asking, what is a drill beat?

One of the most prominent elements of Drill production is a heavy 808 bass. This will be found in all Drill music and is often the track’s driving force. This is often accompanied by a syncopated rhythm with the hats and the snare, which helps create the track’s groove.

In terms of the melody, this is often very simple and is usually a dark melodic pad looped through the whole track. UK producers tend to favor piano or strings for their melodies, both of which have very little change throughout the production.

Regarding vocal production, US Drill often uses auto-tune and multiple layers to develop their sound, which was certainly influenced by Trap production. Another key element of Drill music is the heavy use of adlibs throughout the whole track. This is especially apparent in US Drill.

An example of these characteristics is “WOO Forever” by Rah Swish. This is a good example of the lyrics taking center stage, as only six tracks make the entirety of the beat. 

However, in terms of UK Drill, there is a far drier production on the vocals, and auto-tune is rarely ever used. This creates a far more intentional vocal delivery and a far more impactful performance, especially with the violent nature of the lyrics. 


When compared to hip-hop music, there is far less expression in their lyrics and flow. Generally speaking, Drill artists tend to have a very monotone expression regarding their rapping.

This makes some of their harder-hitting, violent lyrics appear far more sinister and real. This rapping style was made popular in Chicago; however, the UK Drill scene has certainly taken inspiration from their US neighbors. 


One of the core characteristics of Drill music is its aggressive writing. The word “drill” itself has been coined as slang for shooting someone. And this has been used on numerous occasions throughout the course of the genre’s history.

Generally, Drill lyrics are very violent in nature, referencing violence, crimes, and murder. This has been accentuated in the UK Drill scene as artists push lyrical violence to a new level.

The song “Soul is Mine” by YA and Lucci opens by saying, “I’m carving the number 6 on your chest. Kill him and take his soul, then watch his family lay him to rest.” Even with a disclaimer on these songs to say they are for entertainment purposes.

It goes without saying there’s a true intention in the shock factor for the audience. Whether the lyrics are fact or fiction, they certainly contribute to the genre’s success. 

However, one of the most infamous cases of a rapper outing himself in his lyrics is YN Melly when he wrote “Murder on my mind.” If the name itself doesn’t lead cause for investigation, the lyrics, “I reloaded my pistol, cocked it back, and shot him twice…. And he died inside my arms, blood all on my shirt,” piqued the interest of the law, and an investigation ensued.

It was later discovered that YN Melly had killed two of his friends whom he referenced in the song. 

Drill Aesthetic 

Guns, knives, and cars are prevalent in album art and music videos. In terms of the color scheme, black and red are commonly used, and you can often find blood incorporated within the artwork of some albums.

This adds further emphasis on the violence of the genre. However, as an artist grows in popularity, gains mainstream success, and gets connected to labels, the nature of the Drill aesthetic diminishes in some cases. 

The most significant difference in aesthetic is within the UK Drill scene. A large majority of drill artists in the UK are found covering their faces in their album art and videos.

It’s up for debate whether the artists are covering their faces to not reveal their identity because of the truth of their lyrics. However, based on the sure size of the genre now, it is safe to say this certainly could be the case for some artists. 

Popular Drill Artists 

Pop Smoke 

One of the most prolific figures for the Drill genre was Pop Smoke. His distinctive voice and lyrics were certainly the driving factor behind the rise in his popularity. He first emerged on the scene in 2019 with his debut album “Meet The Woo,” which included massive hits such as “Dior” and “Welcome to the Party.”

This album shook up rap by offering a new take on the Brooklyn drill scene. Following his breakout success, his popularity grew exponentially, leading to collaborations with artists such as Lil Baby and DaBaby.

Sadly, Pop Smoke was shot dead in 2020 during the peak of his career. This is one of many examples of drill artists losing their lives. Pop Smoke is still one of the biggest drill artists to date, even with his untimely death in 2020 at the age of 20. 

Lil Durk 

Without a doubt, Lil Durk is the most prominent artist to emerge from the Chicago Drill scene. Lil Durk has featured alongside the biggest names in the industry, including Kayne, Gunna, Lil Baby, and Polo G, and featured on Drake’s song “Laugh Now Cry Later,” which placed at number 1 on charts across the globe.

Lil Durk’s 2022 album 7220 debuted at #1 on Billboards Top 100 and sold 120,000 units within the first week of its release. 

Digga D 

Digga D is one of the originators of the Drill genre and is one of the artists that has had continued success since 2015. He was a member of group “1011” and is considered one of the originators of UK Drill. 

Central Cee 

Central Cee is one of the most prominent Rap/Drill artists in recent years to come out of the UK. In his early career, his reference to drugs and violence was far more prevalent.

However, as his career progressed and became more mainstream, it became less of a lyrical focus for the rapper. This seems to be a concurrent progression for drill rappers. As they grow in popularity, they tend to sway away from drill music’s “true” nature. 

Before you go, check out our guide to the 10 Best Rap Songs With Big Bass!