One of the most fascinating things about drill is the way it has woven itself into the cities with its biggest movements. Each time a drill subgenre emerges in a new city, it incorporates aspects of the city’s previous endemic subgenres into its sonic profile. The sinister cymbal and snare claps of Chicago drill draw influence from the house music that originated there, and the Caribbean percussion triplet rhythms brought to London by Afro-Caribbean immigrants seem to always find themselves in UK drill songs. However, one city stands above the others as the most varied and innovative when it comes to the drill sound: New York.
New York drill, which coalesced in Brooklyn in the late 2010s before diffusing to the Bronx in the early 2020s, combines the nihilistic, swagger-filled delivery of Chicago drill with the instrumentals of UK drill. However, the Chicago drum kit often makes at least a subtle appearance on NY drill beats. Brooklyn drill was gaining steam rapidly, fueled by the meteoric rise of its breakout star, Pop Smoke who was tragically murdered in early 2020, and the vacuum left by his passing as well as some pandemic-induced malaise caused Brooklyn drill to lose a lot of its momentum going into the 2020s.
Enter the Bronx. While the gravelly, baritone Brooklyn accents that carried the borough’s drill music were probably the most suited for crossover stardom, the younger, angrier, and more reckless voices on the mainland began to make a name for themselves, both through persistent releases of music and videos, as well as the trail of blood that has followed Bronx drill from the beginning.
While Brooklyn drill’s gang affiliations were not subtle, the Bronx has taken to saying the quiet parts out loud. Bronx drill songs often serve as disses to rival gang members, with the most disrespectful words often saved for the deceased. Dissing dead opps has become commonplace in the genre, with these lyrics often being 1. Admissible in court and 2. Enough to provoke the rival gang into another act of violence.
The conflict, in concurrence with a general trend of rising crime in New York City, has caused radio DJs to vow to stop playing music with gang disses, and Mayor Eric Adams to ‘declare war’ on drill. While Adams’ approach is eerily reminiscent of the broken-windows policies of ex-mayor Rudy Giuliani that imprisoned so many undeservingly, homicides are up, and it’s difficult not to look at songs that directly refer to and incite real-world violence as a contributing factor.
Even with the mayor himself positioned against it, Bronx drill has refused to cool down. The genre’s biggest stars have scored crossover hits and record deals, and the virality of the entire movement is undeniable. In addition to that, the genre boasts a genuine narrative surrounding two of its biggest stars, which has resulted in both reprehensible violence and waves of arrests. Kay Flock, a 19-year-old from the Belmont neighborhood, was looking like the front-runner for the spot of Bronx drill’s golden boy, with his first project, The D.O.A Tape, streaming like crazy and an infectious collaboration with established star Cardi B taking over TikTok. Flock, whose gruff, booming voice and cocksure delivery made him Bronx drill’s first to gain major recognition outside of the borough, was on a meteoric rise.
He was scoring Billboard Hot 100 hits like his 2021 banger “Is Ya Ready” less than two years after he started rapping, and was well on his way to being anointed the next big thing out of New York before his career was derailed by his arrest for first-degree murder over a shooting that occurred in December 2021. The brutality of the charges brought against Flock serves to epitomize the harshness and veracity of the Bronx drill’s violence compared to its Brooklyn counterpart. However, he is not the only rising star to get in serious trouble with the NYPD.
His first cousin and arch-nemesis, 21-year-old DThang Gz of the River Park Towers (RPT), may have a claim to the throne as well. DThang, whose YGz gang is feuding with Flock’s among several others in the Bronx, sounds startlingly young as if the insults he hurls should be over an Xbox headset instead of about grisly real-life murders. Dthang’s breakout, Gotye-sampling “Talk Facts,” is easily one of the most disrespectful songs I’ve ever heard.
Intended as a response to CJ Goon and Sha EK’s “How You Every O Shot,” sees DThang and his RPT associates Bando Gz and Tdot making it their goal to diss pretty much everyone in the Bronx, from Kay Flock’s compatriot and fellow rapper BLovee to Sha EK and CJ Goon, whom TDot reveals is his cousin. And those are just some of the targets who are still alive. They also diss what feels like dozens of dead opps, some of who were as young as 13. The song went insanely viral and was due to earn Dthang a record deal, but he was arrested and indicted as part of a sweeping 33-man RICO case brought against the RPT Bloods by Bronx DA Darcel Clark.
These familial connections that straddle Bronx drill’s most notorious feuds are perhaps the most tragic aspect of the genre. When DThang name-drops his abuela at the beginning of “Talk Facts,” one wonders if he is talking about the grandmother he shares with Kay Flock. Relations between beefing gangs are not limited to just familial, though. Since all of these gangs operate in such close proximity to each other, their young members have often attended the same schools since childhood. While this sometimes serves to forge connections between people who might otherwise be taught to hate each other, it also turns them into additional theaters for violence between factions.
With the increasing police scrutiny facing Bronx drill and its artists, many have adopted tactics from their British counterparts in order to obscure the admissibility of their lyrics in criminal cases. With New York prosecutors about to test the strength of the First Amendment in referencing drill lyrics in the trials of figures such as Flock and DThang, still-free drill artists have begun to mask specifics through bleeps, “shh” ad-libs, and other sort of creative interruptions.
Daily Arts Writer Ryan Brace can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.