The greatest drill rap songs from Pop Smoke, Chief Keef, Lil Durk and more. (Photos: Getty/Artwork: TL Smith)
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Odds are you’ve found your way to this list for one of two reasons.
Either you’re wondering what “drill” — the violent music booming from your kids’ speakers — is and why artists like Pop Smoke and Fivio Foreign are ruling streaming services. Or you’re a major fan of the hip-hop subgenre that emerged in Chicago in the late 2000s/early 2010s and are here to tell me how terrible this list of the 30 best drill rap songs is.
Either way, there’s no denying drill – from its scenes in Chicago to New York to London – has become the music of the moment. And a very controversial one.
While drill has been all the rage on streaming services, it’s been denounced by many people concerned with its often violent and gang-related aspects that have tragically led to the deaths of many drill stars.
And yet, drill is evolving into something beyond its heavy-handed origins. It’s now sampling cheesy 2000s pop songs that were once the butt of jokes in “White Girls.” Even Cleveland hasn’t been immune to its own viral drill hit courtesy of Slim Jesus.
Old-school hip-hop heads despise it. Politicians think it’s taking down their cities. But people keep pressing play on these gritty, nihilistic street songs that don’t appear to be going anywhere, anytime soon. [Note, the videos the featured below contain explicit lyrics]
With Chief Keef and others bringing drill into the mainstream, it was only a matter of time before popular artists who hadn’t been associated with the genre joined in. You see that even in the last few years with the likes of Drake and Kanye West. But Nicki Minaj’s “Chi-Raq” was especially important, not only in showcasing Chicago drill star G Herbo (then known as Lil Herb) but also proving drill had a mainstream shelf life.
In retrospect, “Who I Smoke” should have been the moment where drill jumped the shark: Some of the most disrespectful lyrics the genre has seen over Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles.” No, that’s not a typo. It was the current trend of sample-drill in its extreme. It’s either genius or completely ludicrous. And yet, it has more than 40 million views on YouTube.
The early sounds of Chicago drill felt like a bit of controlled chaos, at least compared to what was to come. L’A Capone and RondoNumbaNine’s “Play for Keeps” marked a trend of young rappers bringing jarring lyrics about violence to the scene with videos that were truly terrifying. Unfortunately, the duo lived up to its sound with Capone being murdered in 2013 and RondoNumbaNine sentenced to 39 years in jail for a separate murder incident three years later.
London trio OFB (made up of Bandokay, Double Lz and SJ) were viewed as the future of UK drill thanks to the underground smash “Ambush” in 2019. The haunting track gave the trio a platform to try and move UK drill beyond violence into something more thoughtful. It remains an essential cut in the genre’s history.
You could consider Waka Flocka Flame’s head-banging crunk-infused gangsta rap a precursor to drill music. And Waka was out to prove it when he joined forces with London’s Giggs for “Lemme Get Dat.” With Giggs’ road rap style serving as an inspiration for UK drill, “Lemme Get Dat” marked one of the first times drill crossed over globally.
When you look at the origins of Brooklyn drill, it isn’t long before you get to epic posse cuts like Dah Dah’s “Gang Gang Gang” or something even more scathing like “Big Opps America,” a song so violent it was banned from some radio stations. The track, which disses artist 22Gz’s Blicky gang, became the poster boy for politicians and community leaders warning against drill’s effect on gang violence. But that didn’t stop people from listening to “Big Opps America,” which racked up numerous streams and YouTube views, and remains one of the most highly regarded tracks among Brooklyn drill purists.
It’s no exaggeration to say Chicago South Side rapper FBG Duck was positioned to pick up where Chief Keef left off, especially after the former’s breakthrough hit “Slide” arrived in 2018. Ultimately, FBG Duck’s life came to embody drill’s association with gang violence. He was murdered by masked shooters in August 2020, which makes many of the combative lyrics on “Slide” eerie to listen to.
You could spend hours debating who has the best “Mad About Bars” freestyle from the BBC Radio and “Mixtape Madness” YouTube series that features some of London’s finest. But the crown probably goes to 410 members Skengdo and AM whose wordplay during Season 2 took things to new heights.
Stickz’s signature song sounds prehistoric compared to some of the other cuts on this list. He was a pioneer of UK drill and his groundbreaking anthem “Let’s Get It” lacks some of the current production tendencies of the genre. But you can hear the influence of Chicago’s early drill sound, as well as UK grime in Stickz’s bare-bones banger.
B-Lovee’s “My Everything” was a sign of where drill is going and that’s in the direction of ‘90s R&B samples. Producer Cash Cobain (now a fixture on the scene) samples Mary J. Blige on “My Everything,” which became a viral hit when it leaked on TikTok. The style was a change of pace for drill, but something younger fans can’t get enough of. Sample drill has become the toast of New York.
Loski is one of Drake’s favorite UK drill artists and one of the reasons Drizzy started making tracks in the genre himself. It’s easy to see why. Loski is one of UK drill’s best lyricists. As a member of Harlem Spartans, his stature in the scene is set in stone. But “Hazards” proved how much of a force Loski could be on his own.
There are a few pioneering crews of UK drill (including 150, now known as CBG). But if you’re looking for an act that gave the genre its own unique style separate from Chicago – influenced by grime and UK garage — it’s 67. And the crew’s standout member is LD, aka the “godfather of UK drill.” His debut single “Live Corn” is as grandiose a star-making solo turn as you’ll find in the genre.
Lil Reese broke out with his featured appearance on Chief Keef’s “I Don’t Like.” But he had his anthems that dominated Chicago’s drill scene, including “Us,” one of Reese’s signature tracks that would earn him a deal with Def Jam. The song is also noteworthy for its remix featuring Rick Ross and Drake.
Before Chief Keef put Chicago’s drill on the map, it was already thriving in the city thanks, in no small part, to King Louie’s whose music was making noise a year before Keef’s breakthrough (see “Gumbo Monsters”). The peak of Louie’s slow-down style, which sounds primal by today’s drill standards, is the frightening “B.O.N.,” still one of the best trunk rattlers to come out of the genre.
Fivio Foreign is the current face of Brooklyn drill and that starts with “Big Drip.” Foreign had stellar tracks before the 2020 anthem. But “Big Drip” became a force of nature in clubs, car speakers and on the charts (especially with the remix featuring Lil Baby and Quavo). You couldn’t escape it and now you can’t escape Foreign after his feature on Kanye West’s “Off the Grid” and his debut album “B.I.B.L.E.” becoming a streaming monster.
Few UK drill artists have been more innovative than Headie One. But it was the thunderous single “Know Better” from the mixtape “One” that put Headie at the forefront of the UK scene. Even if American fans haven’t heard of him, you know his sound and style because Drake has borrowed it a time or two.
There’s no overstating Chief Keef’s role in making Chicago drill a mainstream hip-hop commodity. “Faneto” may be his ultimate fan favorite and a modern blueprint for the disrespectful nature of drill. Talk about scathing, the track dissing New Jersey was banned in the state for sparking riots. For some, there’s nothing more drill than that.
Until “Homerton B,” UK drill was, perhaps, the most maligned musical genre in Europe. But Unknown T’s track became the first track from UK drill to make waves on the charts and go silver (200,000 copies sold). Some 27 million views on YouTube later and an endless number of fan-made dance videos, and the UK had no choice but to welcome drill as a mainstream fixture.
The beef between crews will always be a hallmark of drill music. But it’s also part of the genre’s creative fabric. 22Gz released “Suburban” in 2016. The diss song drew a response from Sheff G, who released his response “No Suburban.” The two tracks would become an integral part of Brooklyn drill’s ascension at the end of the 2010s into New York’s go-to genre in the 2020s.
22Gz’s “Suburban” became one of the first Brooklyn drill songs to make a major dent in the music scene in 2016. It sparked his beef with Sheff G and also led to a second response with “Suburban Pt. 2,” a track that took the feud and sound of Brooklyn drill to new heights. If you wanted to explain the scene to people who haven’t heard it before, the back-and-forth between 22Gz and Sheff G would be a nice place to start.
Produced by East London’s 808Melo, “Dior” is essentially a club anthem that, for purists, doesn’t adhere to the core principles of drill music. And yet, it doesn’t matter. Pop Smoke tracks just hit differently and “Dior” was the culmination of drill going mainstream. There was no stopping it at this point with Pop Smoke on the verge of not just becoming the biggest star in the genre’s history but one of music’s biggest stars in general.
“Let’s Lurk” was a key moment in UK drill history. As Chicago drill’s initial surge began to slow, UK drill became a focal point for fans of the genre. 67 had established itself as a pioneering group. But “Let’s Lurk” saw them joining forces with UK legend Giggs for an anthem that would mark a seminal moment in UK rap history.
Lil Herb (now G Herbo) and Lil Bibby have moved past the drill genre (Herbo’s sound in particular is more trap now). But it wasn’t before they gave the genre one of its greatest songs. “Kill S***” is a ferocious track from two young artists laying down rhymes that should have been beyond their years: “Know a couple n****s that’s down to ride for a homicide/When it’s drama time/Run up on a n***a with the llamas flyin.’” Arriving so early during the rise of Chicago drill, “Kill S***” stood as a sign of what was to come.
For a while there, “Dis Ain’t What U Want” was the anthem for Chicago drill. Everything about Lil Durk’s style represented such a high ceiling for the genre. And while his peers were focused on raw aggression, Durk was bringing melody to the genre, foreshadowing the current state of drill nearly a decade before it came to fruition.
For much of the 2010s, it was easy to dismiss drill music as yet another hip-hip genre letting people know what’s going on in the violent street. That’s what made King Von’s “Crazy Story” so shocking. Von gave the scene cinematic storytelling over the signature drill sound. It was as artistic as it was affecting. Von had been around drill via associations with Chief Keef and Lil Durk since its early days. But he was just coming into his own as an artist when he was killed in 2020.
If you’re looking for the signature UK drill sound, Harlem Spartans’ iconic anthem is where it’s at. The hard-hitting Chicago sound remained, but “Kennington Where It Started” sounded cleaner with precise lyricism that would give UK drill its blueprint moving forward. The song established Harlem Spartans as one of the major crews within the scene (along with 67) and moved the genre into its next chapter.
Bobby Shmurda took the rap world by storm in 2014 with the viral hit “Hot N***a.” And yet, his most influential move that year may have been guesting on Rowdy Rebel’s groundbreaking song “Computers.” Depending on what genre you consider “Hot N***a” to be (I’ll go with trap), “Computers” marked the beginning of New York drill as a thriving force with its horror movie chords.
1011′s “Next Up Pt. 1″ arrived on the 13th edition of the “Mixtape Madness” series and exploded. The crew (now known as CGM) put on a lyrical display that wowed UK hip hop fans to the tune of 1 million views and placement on Spotify’s UK rap playlist. Every listener knew it was a landmark moment in UK hip hop and a drill song that had reached a level beyond anything that had come before it.
Drill’s ultimate a-star-is-born moment. Pop Smoke’s debut single arrived in spring 2019 and soon made him the hottest thing to come out of New York since 50 Cent. From an influence standpoint, “Welcome to the Party” was the moment New York drill truly established its signature sound that could be pushed out to the mainstream. From a popularity standpoint, the track made Pop Smoke an unstoppable force until his murder in 2020. All told, he spent two years as the king of New York, pushing drill to its highest point yet.
An obvious choice and the right one. “I Don’t Like” didn’t just elevate drill to new heights, it changed the landscape of popular music. And it couldn’t be simpler. Chief Keef lists a bunch of things he dislikes. But it was enough to get a co-sign from hometown icon Kanye West. From there, drill was off and running with the Chicago sound helping shape the future of trap, emo rap, SoundCloud and more. Heck, even Ariana Grande was incorporated into the drill scene. And it all starts with “I Don’t Like,” one of the most influential moments in music during the 2010s, whether you like it or not.
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30 greatest drill songs: From Chicago to Brooklyn to UK – cleveland.com
The greatest drill rap songs from Pop Smoke, Chief Keef, Lil Durk and more. (Photos: Getty/Artwork: TL Smith)