Everyone wants in on UK drill.
American rappers are queuing up to work with producers like Ghosty and 808Melo; the late, great Pop Smoke championed the sound in a big way; even Azealia Banks gave her seal of approval (she famously dissed grime). Of course, the Canadian rap star Drake has always been a loud and proud supporter of UK music, but there was always the nagging accusation that UK artists were seeking out Stateside approval, that we needed it in order to survive. With UK drill, however, that’s most definitely not the case. Now, with last night’s “Only You Freestyle” from Drake and Headie One, there’s no doubt this is a two-way street of mutual respect and collaboration.
Unlike Drake’s love affair with grime, this feels a little different. Stretching back to December last year with “War” and continuing with “Demons” in April, Drake’s already proven that drill is a part of his current palette of sounds. If you really want to take it back to the start, don’t forget it was all the way back in 2016 that he first hopped on stage with Section Boyz. With all that context out the way, we put our heads together to dissect this transatlantic meeting of minds. Does it live up to the hype? Is M1OnTheBeat going to follow 808Melo to the States? And what is Drake saying in Arabic, and to whom?
Drake’s penchant for the UK is here to stay
Drake’s love for the UK is certy, that much is clear. The rapper has a well-documented history of showing black British music, culture the utmost respect (and attention) when he didn’t have to. He didn’t have to bring Top Boy back to TV, but he did. He didn’t have to bless Link Up TV with its most-viewed video ever, but he did. He didn’t have to sample a UK funky classic for a global No. 1, but he did. And the same goes for the “Only You Freestyle” with Headie One: he didn’t have to let his millions of fans know that Headie is “the best drill artist in the world.” But he did. Consistent with his UK praise for almost a decade, Champagne P has proven himself to be that standup guy who always gives props where it is due. —Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson
UK drill’s heading in the right direction
Controversy isn’t new to UK drill. All throughout 2018, the genre was unfairly targeted by the mainstream press and linked to buzzwords such as “gangs”, “violence” and “murder”, rather than wordplay, storytelling and forward-thinking production. But we’re finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, especially with artists like Headie One at the helm. The distant gap between the UK and US is slowly closing, and of course Drake has played a big part in that—even though he’s from neither location. Most of Pop Smoke’s output was produced by London’s 808Melo, which gave UK drill a boost globally, and this “Only You Freestyle” will no doubt do the same, with both rappers controlling M1OnTheBeat’s eerie soundscape like the pros they are. —Minou Itseli
M1OnTheBeat’s ghostly production is chef’s kiss
M1OnTheBeat’s star has been on the rise for a while now. A close ally and creative partner of MKThePlug, together the pair helped sculpt a lot of drill’s blueprint. M1 himself has supplied Headie with plenty of instrumentals in the past, so to have him provide the backdrop for this historic team-up was only right. A moment like this necessitates only the best and boy did he rise to the occasion. As is his hallmark, M1’s production uses just a few key elements to huge effect—an ethereal vocal harmony here, some clicking 808s there and a shuddering bass line throughout—all of it coming together for a mood that’s grand and cinematic in its scope. Like all good drill instrumentals though, the crucial part is that it holds back just enough to let the bars take the limelight. —James Keith
Aubrey is bar-heavy (just how we like it)
Is Drake living up to drill’s USP of sending for opps on “Only You”? It seems the war is back on with his rap nemesis, Pusha-T, who last month reignited their beef when he used his verse on “Paranoia”—a track meant for Pop Smoke’s posthumous LP, Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon—to send shots at Drake once more. The woozy rap cut also featured Gunna and Young Thug, but was scrapped at the last minute once it was found that Push was aiming for Aubrey. Using a double-time grime flow that calls to mind Big H, he spits: “Shit you man been droppin’ lately/Don’t make me have to fly my iTunes/So much people buy into my hype/Don’t make me have to buy my hype too/Dealt with the big homie already/Don’t make me have to side-by-side you/Nuff times he tried to hide behind you/Amnesia but when I remind you/I’m touchin’ road and I can’t find you.” And this is all after he dubs UK TV presenter Maya Jama a “sweet one” and claims that an Arabic girl said he looks like ‘Yussef or Hamza’ (two common Arabic names), to which he retorts in Arabic: “Baby girl, I’m sure we’d look better together.” Drizzy lyrically tap-danced all over this drop, and we love to see it. —Jason Kavuma
Headie One really is the King of Drill
Mere months after pivoting towards a wider range of styles on GANG, Headie One’s return to straight drillin’ is all he needed to shut down any naysayers debating his rank in the scene’s pecking order. It’s no small irony that after GANG’s FKA twigs and Jamie xx collaborations had doubters unfavorably comparing his pop pivot to Drake, Headie roped the hip-hop superstar for not just any verse, but a shelldown on his own terms. It’s this ability to seamlessly navigate between a pop space looking for drill’s credibility and a drill scene rapidly growing into a chart force that sets Headie apart from the pack commercially, with no clear contender to his throne yet. Even the artistic successes of peers like Unknown T serve only to prove the growing gulf between those operating solely within drill’s borders and attempts to push its boundaries and draw in new listeners as on “Only You”. Until another emcee cracks that code, the crown lies securely with Headie One. —Son Raw