UK Drill Has Produced Certified Stars, But Who’s Up Next?
UK drill’s future holds almost unlimited possibilities, but one thing we can be sure about is that these 10 artists are going to be its next stars....
Image via Publicist
Since it first trickled over from Chicago in the mid-2010s, drill has grown in unimaginable ways. Starting as a niche South London sound, with its eerie, 808s-loaded beats and just as if not more menacing bars than its US counterpart, UK drill has now broken through with its share of chart hits and international stars.
Outfits like 150, 67, and the recently disbanded Smoke Boys (fka Section Boys) rode the sound’s first wave and, more recently, Headie One (and half of OFB, namely RV, Bandokay & Double Lz), Digga D, Unknown T, Russ Millions, Tion Wayne, Loski, Skengdo x AM and Central Cee have been leading the charge and making the sound a true force to be reckoned with. Despite what people might say, UK drill is far from monolithic and its sound and key players are changing faster than ever. Some rappers are moving on from drill and that’s okay because there’s a new gen waiting in the wings, ready for their time to shine. Some of this new wave have been working in the scene for some time, others are newcomers, but each of the acts we’re profiling today is bringing something fresh to the table.
They’ve been watching drill grow and evolve and shift through its many iterations; they’ve taken the lessons learned, and they’re fusing it with Afroswing, grime, garage, dancehall, R&B and more traditional rap sounds. Drill’s future holds almost unlimited possibilities, but one thing we can be sure about is that these 10 artists are going to be its next stars.
Essential tracks: “Badnis”, “Lagga”, “Y PREE”, “B1llionz”, “HDC”
To some people, Birmingham-born M1llionz has already made it: he’s graced the covers of top magazines, done a campaign with Burberry, and had his first Top 40 hit last year with the UKG-tinged “B1llionz”. While this has all happened super early on his career, having only started out in 2019 with the track “North West”, this is all the makings of a superstar who is readying his debut project to validate the hype that hasn’t left him since. As one of the few non-London rappers to infiltrate the drill scene succesfully, with his hypnotic, melodic cadence and cinematic visuals, M1llionz has the industry’s undivided attention and it’s up to him what happens next. One thing’s for certain: he’s making his city proud. —Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson
Essential tracks: “Do It”, “Evil”, “Kids Next Door”, “Hello Hi”, “Charged Up”
Homerton driller V9 ambushed the scene with his ice-cold debut single, “Japan”, back in 2017. Similarly chilly cuts, like the KO-assisted “Andy & Dwight”, “Charged Up”, “Devilish” and 2019 mixtape Homerton Sensei, showcased his potent blend of brazen crud-talk, anime and comic book references, and deadpan humour. Being unafraid to let his personality shine over the dark chords and pulsing 808s of drill productions made him an artist to watch. At the end of 2019, he released the eerily peaceful, Cartoon Network-inspired “Kids Next Door”; the contrast between his hard-hitting bars and the track’s melodic keys flipped the script and smashed the idea that all drill ‘sounds the same’. But it was 2020’s Yūdokuna tape that elevated V9 to the next level. Cuts such as “Buju Banton”, “Hello, Hi” and the trap-wave-leaning “Gasoline” paired warm, textured soundscapes with his razor-sharp lyricism. His delivery and flow had developed too—sounding controlled and crisp—which he digged into further in his Daily Duppy freestyle and the excellent #98s project. In March, V9 linked up with Ghosty and Tefo to push the sonic boundaries of drill even further with “Do It”, a smooth, Erykah Badu-sampling cut that will live on past lockdown and go on to become a future V9 classic. —Robert Kazandjian
Essential tracks: “High Right Now”, “No Cap”, “Passion”, “We Don’t Dance”, “Riding”
South London has given us some of the biggest names in rap, and M24 is next up to bat. The Brixton-born driller isn’t new to the game, but his work-rate over the past 18 months has led to him being in conversations like this today. Armed with an angst-laced delivery and some of the catchiest ad-libs around, M24 does drill with finesse (think Amiri, less Nike) which can even be heard in his choice of beats, as evidenced on his debut project, Drip ‘N’ Drill, which dropped last year and made our Best Albums Of 2020 list. While he’s stated that he wants to do more than just drill in the future, his foundations in the scene are set and will be of great benefit as he ventures out and experiments. —Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson
Essential tracks: “Tetley”, “Petrol Station”, “Auntie”, “Swing It”, “Auntie”
Kwengface, the energetic masked avenger, has been rapping for most of his life but has blossomed in the last few years as the architect of some of UK drill’s finest anthems, including “No Censor”, “Auntie” and “Zoom”, bringing him to the forefront of the scene. Coming up as part of Peckham collective Zone 2, his effortlessness with the rhymes was detectable from early, and he has come into his own as a solo artist delivering an endless stream of frenetic bangers. Kwengface’s appeal lies in his suave demeanour and power to crank up the tempo at a moment’s notice, as he offers front-row seat reporting from the trenches of his South London home with a frantic delivery and freezing-cold flows. He brings a refreshingly lyrical edge to the drill scene and a fearlessness to experiment sonically, and while he stays on crud topically, his artistry is expanding in real time. Kwengface also commands respect from his peers; he was featured recently on famed producer Carns Hill’s project Founding Father, and has collabs with Hardy Caprio, RV, Ms Banks and more on his CV. Meanwhile, he has stolen the show on several occasions freestyling on platforms such as Charlie Sloth’s Fire In The Booth, Link Up TV’s Behind Barz and Fumez The Engineer’s Plugged In. With an EP set to land this summer, Kweng is a whisker away from making a transition that only a handful of drillers have done before him. —Yemi Abiade
Essential tracks: “Black”, “Big Steppa”, “Petrol Station”, “One Nizzy”, “Bruce Willis”
You may know Peckham’s PS Hitsquad for being a member of the infamous drill collective Zone 2, but he’s been making a name for himself as a solo artist as far back as 2017. Many hail PS, whose clarity on the mic is up there with some of the best in rap, as one of the dons for maintaining the essence of early drill, due to tracks like “Playtime’s Over”, “The Truth”, “One Nizzy” and “Ginnals”, which are filled with that grittiness the scene was birthed upon. With his lyrics being a reflection of his reality, PS has experienced a few setbacks in his career, but he’s been showing that he’s in it to win more recently. Late last year, he impressed fans with a Plugged In freestyle and a handful of features, namely the jumpy “Slat” with Gully, and has upped the levels even more in 2021 with cuts like “Petrol Station” with Kwengface, and “Black” with UK rap star Giggs. It’s exciting times for PS. —Mimi Itseli
Essential tracks: “Breaking Bad”, “Cutlery”, “Dinner Time”, “Honda Civic”, “Feeling It”
Norwood native Teeway has been on our radar for a while now—since 2018, to be exact, with his first single “Anglo Saxon”. He’s received a lengthy list of co-signs in that time, too, from the likes of DJ Kenny Allstar (and his Voice Of The Streets and Mad About Bars platforms) to even Drake, by way of a feature on the OVO-curated soundtrack for Netflix’s Top Boy (“Feeling It”). Between 2019 and 2020, Teeway, known for his complex rhyme schemes and deft wordplay, turned heads with more bangers like “Honda Civic”, “Private Ryan” and “Dinner Time”, and showed he could hold his own next to his respected peers on “Year Of The Real” with M1llionz, Meekz and Pa Salieu. New mixtape 5th Chapter further proves that the only way is up for this young prodigy. —Mimi Itseli
Essential tracks: “Fly Like That”, “LIVE’O”, “Trends”
Much has been written about the Broadwater Farm set and the dense pack of talent bubbling up there. Headie One, RV and Abra Cadabra were the first to make it, followed soon after by OFB youngers Bandokay and Double Lz, but the North London hotspot still has an unreasonably large pool of talent waiting for their turn. Next up is Izzpot, whose ultra-energetic flow and moshpit energy mark him out as an anomaly in the otherwise calm-and-collected OFB. There aren’t too many solo outings for Izzpot just yet, which is a shame because the Ghosty-produced “LIVE’O” from earlier this year proved he’s got bars in abundance, and that he’s capable of carpet-bombing a beat like no one else in drill. And as much as he shined on team-ups like “Trends” with Fizzler, his jumpy staccato’d flow needs its own space. If he capitalises on the work he’s done and gives us more solo heat, his ascent will be all but guaranteed. —James Keith
Essential tracks: “Anakin”, “The Great Escape”, “Pull Up”, “Shippuden”, “Solomon Rondon”
A graduate of Kennington crew Harlem Spartans, Blanco has been right in the thick of it for much of drill’s lifespan and has had a hand in some of the scene’s most influential tracks (“Kennington Where It All Started” being the most obvious example). But, as a solo artist, he’s quietly become one of the most exciting prospects in the past couple of years. Rising up from a hotbed of talent like the Spartans meant you had to be the best to be heard and that set him up well for this phase in his career. In the past few years, two things have set him out from the crowd: his nonchalant, I-dont-even-care way of delivering chest-punching rhymes, and his beat selection. The English Dubbed EP from 2019 was way ahead of its time, pairing lines about being haunted by street life against airy instrumentals with flecks of Afrobeats and almost ambient textures. Now that he’s made a mark on drill, he’s setting his sights on the mainstream and thanks to recent ventures with Central Cee and Darkoo, Blanco’s already well on his way. —James Keith
Essential tracks: “Minimum Wage”, “Algebra”, “AHA MHMM”
After early drops “Words” and “Deep In It”, Fizzler really grabbed listeners’ attention in autumn 2019, with a lyrically dexterous, punchline-loaded Who Got Bars freestyle. The South East London driller didn’t stray far from the genre’s dark, street-centred subject matter but there was a playful energy to his delivery and tone. He defined his approach as “saucy drill”, which aims to strike a balance between the harsh realities of the roads and the fun that all teenagers—regardless of environment—are entitled to have. He doubled down on the sauce soon after, connecting with Irish drill king Offica on “Skiddibop”—an infectious, celebratory track that came complete with a Tik-Tok-ready dance. He closed 2019 out with a solid debut EP in WET IT SZN. The buzz around Fizzler’s name was getting increasingly loud, and 2020 was all about building on that momentum. He kicked the year off with the jumpy, BKay-produced number “Minimum Wage”, and then later collaborated with Kwengface on “Algebra” and LZee on “Brownies”. These cuts emphasise his clever wordplay, which shapes road chat into something that feels mischievous rather than menacing. It’s a slick act of deception which gives Fizzler that crossover appeal. His youthful exuberance could very well take him to the top, and we’ll all be watching. —Robert Kazandjian
Essential tracks: “Same Bros”, “No Cap”, “Make Sense”, “The Start”, “What A Mood”
East London’s SD Muni has shown a charisma and flair beyond his years on his steady rise up the ranks. Rapping since he was 14 at his local youth club in Clapton, he dropped his debut track “The Start” in 2019 and he hasn’t looked back since, showcasing tight flows, intelligent punchlines and impeccable wordplay across tracks like “No Cap”, “Same Bros” and the recent “Beatbox Freestyle”. It’s evident that when SD spits, he makes every word hit and every bar count. Primarily rapping over rampant drill beats, he is just as adept over rap and trap instrumentals, enveloping all in his wake and so far displaying a versatility that many of his peers cannot boast. SD is positioning himself as an artist’s artist, not bound by what the ‘in thing’ might be right now but wherever his curiosity takes him. This was evident when he shelled down his Mad About Bars set with Kenny Allstar, even breaking out some melodies midway through that would make Lil Baby proud. Or his crooning on “Cold Streets”, a serious gear shift but one that doesn’t feel unnatural. It makes every tune he drops just that little more unpredictable and with that, SD Muni shows he will continue to prove he has all the tools to make himself a staple in the drill scene and beyond. —Yemi Abiade