This image is from Fivio Foreign’s official Instagram.

Few local rap movements have become as culturally influential and ubiquitous as Brooklyn drill over the last few years. Born from rising Brooklyn rappers adopting the skittering, nihilistic production style of U.K. drill, the American iteration of the style also often features lyrics concerning partying or gang affiliation. The attraction of Brooklyn to the U.K. drill sound makes sense; U.K. drill’s unique drum structures are noticeably influenced by traditional Caribbean rhythms such as soca music, as many of the inner-city Londoners from whom U.K. drill originated are of Caribbean origin. As such, the Brooklyn neighborhoods that boast thriving drill scenes are also home to large Caribbean populations. Brooklyn drill’s first major star, the late Pop Smoke, was born to a Jamaican mother and Panamanian father, and is still recognized for his influence on drill music despite his tragic murder in February 2020.

Pop Smoke’s death was a major fulcrum point in the young history of Brooklyn drill. Without its most talented and marketable superstar, would the genre simply retreat back into the underground, or would the remaining players in the scene, many of whom were engaged in gang-related feuds with each other, be able to revive it? In order to rebound, Brooklyn drill needed its second son to step up. Enter Fivio Foreign. 

At the time of Pop Smoke’s death, Fivio was little more than an afterthought. He was thought by many to be too old for the Brooklyn drill scene, being 29 years old when his breakout single, “Big Drip,” dropped in 2019. The song was a local hit and has gone platinum since, but never entered any charts worldwide. He then released two EPs and seemingly came to occupy a niche as an average Brooklyn driller with some real duds to boot. However, he earned a spot in the 2020 XXL Freshman Class, an honor for any rising artist. His career kept running into obstacles, however, as he endured a prison stint during what should have been an important developmental phase in his journey. This further delayed his rise so that he didn’t really take his turn until he started working with Kanye West. Fivio played a major role in the creative process of Donda and had a verse of the year contender on the standout track “Off the Grid.” His verse on “Off the Grid” was more vulnerable, emotional and introspective than any of his work prior and signaled an ideological shift in how Fivio approached the recording of his music.

Fivio took this renewed approach into the recording of his debut studio album: B.I.B.L.E. West and his lieutenant Mike Dean were both heavily involved in the album’s production, with West and the Sunday Service Choir both making appearances and Dean earning both production and engineering credits. The West and Alicia Keys-assisted “City of Gods,” which was released as a single for West’s Donda 2 album, appears on B.I.B.L.E. and is an example of “sample drill,” an emerging sub-genre of both U.K. and Brooklyn drill. Sample drill, as it sounds like, is drill music that is built around a pitch-altered sample, often of an old or well-known pop song. “City of Gods,” for example, features Keys singing the chorus of the Chainsmokers’ “New York City,” as the sample that anchors the otherwise-drill beat. There are several sample drill tracks on the album, some of which are actually quite catchy despite their novelty, such as “What’s My Name,” while others fall extremely flat. “Love Songs” is especially brazen, as it butchers 2000s Ne-Yo R&B classic “So-Sick” into a relatively emotionless attempt from Fivio at a love song.

When he settles into his strongest qualities on B.I.B.L.E., Fivio is at the top of his game. His chemistry with Migos frontman Quavo mirrors that of Pop Smoke’s, and their two collaborations rank among B.I.B.L.E.’s best. “Magic City” is a classic party track, and the interplay between the two men is seamless over a characteristically great Axl Beats drill instrumental. “Through the Fire” is arguably more impressive, as Fivio takes center stage and handles a non-drill instrumental phenomenally. He also seems to have matured perspective-wise and offers optimistic takes on his career and children over a “Through the Fire”-sampling trap beat, another place where Kanye’s influence on the album is apparent. 

Frequent Kanye collaborator Vory also puts in a high-quality contribution to B.I.B.L.E. with his warbling hook on “Changed on Me.” That song also features another showcase of Polo G’s versatility, as he hops on a drill beat like a natural. On “Slime Them,” Lil Yachty holds his own, giving the genre’s trademark triplet hi-hats and chain 808s a go.

Ultimately, Fivio shows his development as both a rapper and a man on the project, but the talent gap between him and the man who should have been leading Brooklyn drill’s charge into the mainstream is apparent. Fivio’s success is great for both the genre and the city, but all I can think about as I see his ascendance is that it should have been Pop Smoke.

Daily Arts Writer Ryan Brace can be reached at