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After drill music took over New York City, the producers behind the movement wanted to take it global.
AXL Beats and 808 Melo—two producers who are responsible for many of Brooklyn drill’s biggest hits with artists like Pop Smoke, Fivio Foreign, Sheff G, and 22Gz—talk frequently about how they want to expand the drill sound and take it mainstream.
“I could see big rappers hopping on [drill beats],” AXL told me last December, shortly after producing “War” for Drake. “Gunna hopping on a drill beat would be crazy. That would blow everyone’s mind. If Young Thug hops on a drill beat, that would change everyone’s mind.”
When I spoke with Melo in March, he excitedly talked about how Nav rapping over drill beats pushed the possibilities of the subgenre. “I hope that it just keeps getting bigger,” he added. “I hope it becomes the biggest thing in rap. Literally, side-by-side with trap music.”
But what if the sound was stretched even further than that? What if a soul singer recorded over a drill beat? What if a rock group sang over drill?
Enter Blaccmass, an up-and-coming producer who is going viral for blending drill beats with classic songs from artists like Earth, Wind & Fire, Michael Jackson, and Nirvana. Whether you love the mixes or hate them, they hint at the possibilities for drill music that both AXL and Melo keep talking about.
The Atlanta musician began making mashups back in 2017, but he’s getting more attention than ever this summer with mixes that use Brooklyn drill beats. “I don't know what it is with those New York drill beats, but they sound otherworldly,” he tells Complex. “You can listen to the beats on their own, and they'll sound like a whole song by themselves.” Hypothesizing about why drill beats lend themselves so well to mashups with other genres, he adds, “The simplicity of drill beats gives enough space for artists to shine on the beat. They give them enough space to do what they need to do.”
On August 26, he uploaded his most successful mix yet: a blend of Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1979 classic “September” over a drill beat. The 55-second clip immediately went viral on Twitter, prompting Blaccmass to upload a full version on SoundCloud under the name “Earth, Woo & Fire.”
Blaccmass credits the success of the mashup to an inherent element of surprise. People don’t expect Maurice White’s iconic vocals to pair so well with the haunting, gliding bass that anchors most drill beats. “Everybody’s like, ‘What?! How could that possibly work?” he says. “Imagine reading that on paper: Earth, Wind & Fire, ‘September’ drill version. On paper, that sounds crazy, don't it? It don't seem like it should work.”
A day after he uploaded it, the mix made its way to the members of Earth, Wind & Fire, and Blaccmass received DMs from the band’s official Twitter account. “Hey, we love that ‘September’ remix,” they wrote. “We felt the connection immediately. That bridge between the old and the new is a magical place. Keep building.”
“That was crazy,” Blaccmass says, recalling the interaction. “I wasn’t expecting them to love it so much. When I was talking to them, they understood what I was trying to do with the sound and pushing music forward. And it made me feel good, knowing that a legendary group like them understands that. It was super humbling.”
Of course, not everyone is a fan of these mixes. Along with the praise, there has been plenty of criticism from people who believe these songs shouldn’t be messed with. Some people don’t like the idea of someone re-imagining modern drill music or classic material from the past. In response, Blaccmass says, “When people come to it, they either hate on it or they love it, because have emotional baggage with the song.”
He has received positive words from people close to Pop Smoke, though. Blaccmass says Pop’s close friend Mike Dee reached out after hearing the Michael Jackson mix, and asked if he could get the full version. AXL Beats, who worked closely with Pop Smoke, also reached out to Blaccmass and complimented him on his work.
“AXL saw what I was trying to do with music and erasing genres,” Blaccmass notes. “I want a landscape of music where there's no genres, and there's just music. Anything could work.”
After hearing this, I texted AXL and asked him what he thought about Blaccmass’ mixes. His response? “He’s a game-changer.”
Blaccmass says there’s a bigger mission behind these mashups than just making cool sounds. He wants to blur the lines between genres altogether.
“By the time I’m done doing what I'm doing, I hope that music will be changed in such a way to where you can't say: ‘This is a pop song, this is a reggae song, and this is a rap song,’” he explains. “It’s just a song. And it don’t matter what flavors are mixed in there, it just works. It will be widely accepted. It’ll change Billboard. It’ll change the Grammys. It’ll change all that. And hopefully, it’ll unite people as one. Each person from each nationality can hear this one song, because they like a certain part of the song. And another person likes a certain part of that song, because of the two genres being fused together. That’ll unite some people. That’s my main goal.”
Before discussing his process of making mixes, Blacmass makes a point of explaining how his brain functions when listening to music. “The way my brain operates, I tend to hear two songs at once in my head,” he says. “I don’t know why, but that's just how it works. I'll be listening to an Uzi song, and another beat might start playing in my head. And I'll be like, ‘Oh, snap, that might work.’ Then I'll go to my computer, and I'll try to find the official instrumentals on YouTube. But if I can’t find them, I'll see if the producers left a pocket of instrumental in the song. If there’s enough for me to loop it, I’ll do that, because I don’t like using really bad remakes that a lot of people use.”
Blaccmass says he often uses drill beats that are made by his “favorite producer right now,” Saint Cardona. “He’s the one that's mainly behind all the drill mixes that I do, because his beats, they just work their magic,” he explains. He used a Saint Cardona instrumental in one of his most recent success stories, “Smells Like Teen Drill,” which paired Kurt Cobain’s vocals on the Nirvana classic “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with a growling drill beat. He has since uploaded a full version to his SoundCloud page.
If you’re looking for more full versions of these mixes, you’re in luck. Some of them will end up on a new project that should be arriving within the next week or two.
“I’m dropping an album called Starseed, and I feel like that’s the launch pad for the next level in my career,” Blaccmass says. “That album has a whole bunch of genre-less songs in there like country drill and pop drill. There’s all kinds of just sauce in one package for people to experience.”