BROOKLYN DRILL

The New Sound of New York

“This drill shit is the sound of New York,” Pop Smoke declared on a cool evening in early February. “This is what New York sounds like now.”

Riding through Manhattan in a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, the 20-year-old rapper was just hours away from releasing his second mixtape, Meet the Woo 2, and he had a lot to be happy about. His music was everywhere, blasting through speakers in every corner of Brooklyn, and now the rest of America was starting to take notice. In the past six months alone, he had collaborated with Travis Scott, Nicki Minaj, and Quavo, and earned his first Billboard Hot 100 hits. All that “King of New York” talk was beginning to feel like a self-fulfilling prophecy. The city had a new star.

This time, though, New York’s hottest rapper wasn’t standing alone. Since 2016, the streets of Brooklyn had been rumbling with the sounds of 22Gz, Sheff G, and other artists who took the unapologetic mindset of drill music and reinterpreted it in their own New York image. In 2019, that momentum hit a tipping point when Pop Smoke’s drill anthem “Welcome to the Party” and Fivio Foreign’s “Big Drip” took over the city, earning them each multimillion-dollar record deals. New York rap was back. 

“I've gotta be honest, this was the first time in about 20 years that there’s been, like, a whole movement,” says Funkmaster Flex, who has been on the front lines of NYC rap since the early ’90s. The DJ and radio personality acknowledges that A-listers like Cardi B and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie have come from the city in recent years, but none of them emerged with a whole scene at their backs. “It's been a long time since I've seen a whole part of town have their own thing.”

“This ain’t happen since the times of Dipset and G-Unit,” says journalist Jamel Robinson, Brooklyn rap’s on-the-ground documentarian as host of the Melz TV YouTube channel.

“I think 22Gz, Fivio Foreign, Sheff G, and those guys helped make someone like Pop Smoke even bigger,” argues Flex, who has been keeping these artists in heavy rotation during his DJ sets. “If I didn’t have other records to play in that tempo, I don't know if it would be the same. At 2:15 a.m. in the club, I go into all those artists in a row. And if you didn’t have that combination, it wouldn’t feel as big.”

Pop Smoke’s declaration in the back of that Sprinter wasn’t an exaggeration. Drill music is the new sound of New York. But it’s a sound that didn’t originate in the five boroughs. Before it took over Brooklyn, drill was a product of Chicago. In the early 2010s, rappers like Pac Man, Chief Keef, Lil Reese, King Louie, Fredo Santana, Lil Durk, Lil Bibby and G Herbo exploded on the national stage with raw, brutally honest songs that opened a window to the realities of street life in their neighborhoods.

“Drill music came from the culture of violence in Chicago,” says DJ L, a Chicago producer who helped shape the drill sound, along with Young Chop and other beatmakers. “Drill music is gangster rap. It was no different than N.W.A in the late ’80s. We had the most shocking, most provocative shit in the world.”

With a name that comes from a term of violence —“drill” is commonly used in Chicago as slang for “kill”— the subgenre initially formed around a mentality rather than a specific sound.

“The music came from gang culture,” says Chicago drill producer Chase Davis. “You have all these neighborhoods that have different gangs, and this is the soundtrack to the violence that's going on in the city. The best way to talk about your opposition or get bragging rights is to do it in a song.”

As the Chicago drill scene grew, though, it developed its own sound. The beats were dark and punishing, with moderate tempos that usually hovered around 70 beats per minute. And they were loaded with hi-hats, snares, and bells. “I would literally take every cadence that I was learning from my marching band coach,” remembers DJ L, who leaned on his background as a marching band percussionist and paired it with influences from the house music he was hearing at Chicago juke parties. “At that point in hip-hop, in the top 40, no other producer in America was hitting the snare that many times.”

The Chicago drill movement proved to be massively influential throughout the 2010s, and its effects still ripple through the music industry today. Ten years later, we’re seeing the emergence of a new generation of rappers and producers who grew up obsessed with Chief Keef and the whole Chicago drill scene.

One of those artists is a young producer from London named AXL Beats. Like other drill beatmakers from the U.K., he takes elements of the Chicago drill sound and puts a twist on the style by adding woozy, gliding bass. U.K. drill itself emerged in South London in the early to mid-2010s, with local producers injecting influences from other British genres like grime and garage into the American sound. Over the years, rappers like Headie One, DigDat, K-Trap, and Loski, as well as producers like MK The Plug, M1 on the Beat, and Ghosty, have found success by redefining what drill music could sound like in their own part of the world.

“This ain’t happen since the times of Dipset and G-Unit.”

— Jamel Robinson, Melz TV

AXL confesses he wasn’t paying much attention to U.K. drill, though. Growing up, he was focused intently on what was happening in Chicago. “To be honest, I wasn't really listening to any U.K. drill rappers. I was a big Chief Keef fan,” he says. “I was listening to Glo Gang. You’ve got Fredo Santana, G Herbos, Young Pappy, all the big Chicago artists.”

AXL’s inspirations may have come from Chicago, but he found his first collaborators further east. In 2016, a young Brooklyn rapper named 22Gz found an AXL Beats instrumental called “‘Hop Out’ drill type beat” on YouTube. Inspired by the dramatic production, he downloaded the beat and recorded “Suburban,” a bruising three-and-a-half-minute cut that is widely considered the most important song from the earliest days of Brooklyn drill. Its simplistic, menacing energy laid out a blueprint for what the subgenre would soon become.

Knowing he had captured something special, 22Gz kept going back for more of AXL’s beats—as did the rest of the rappers in Flatbush, where he and Sheff G grew up. And at first, it happened without permission. 

“I was uploading beats to YouTube at the time,” AXL says, explaining that he titled his uploads with key words like “drill beat” and specifically targeted artists with tags like “22Gz type beat" and "Sheff G type beat." He adds, “They started ripping the beats off YouTube, downloading them, and hopping on.”

As AXL’s reputation grew, his email inbox and Instagram DMs became flooded with messages from Brooklyn rappers looking for beats. “They all hit me up,” he remembers. “So I just emailed them beats. Not all the same beats—different types of beats. But they liked the drill ones in particular. They didn’t want to hear more trap music.”

Suddenly, the young London producer was at the center of Brooklyn’s hottest new scene. And none of his New York collaborators even knew where he was from.

“When the drill movement started, no one knew those were London beats,” Robinson says. “We thought AXL was from Brooklyn. It wasn’t until I spoke with him on the phone and I heard an accent that I was like, ‘Where the hell you from, bro?’”

“Everyone literally thought I was from New York, until I ran into Fivio last September and he heard my accent,” AXL laughs. “He was like, ‘You’re from London? You’re not from New York? What?! That’s crazy. A kid from London is making all our beats!’”

As Funk Flex points out, though, when paired with rappers like 22Gz, the songs took on a distinctly New York tone. “It has an out-of-town musical feel, but it’s all New York slang and talk.”

“It’s reality. It’s raw,” adds Robinson. “They’re letting you in on their world—where they live at, how they move, their lingo, their slang. It matters what neighborhood you’re in. You’re going to hear certain shit in different neighborhoods.”

The lyrics are so specific to Brooklyn, in fact, that outsiders don’t always pick up on all the nuances. “Some people think it’s not lyrical, but they just don’t understand what these artists are rapping about,” Robinson says. “When you understand the lingo, and what they’re talking about, it’s like, what the fuck? But if you don’t understand, you’re like, ‘What’s this kid saying?’ I think people get that misconstrued—that they’re just mumbling and babbling. No, you just don’t understand what they’re saying, so it sounds like they're babbling. This is how New York is now. This is the modern feel of New York.” 

“I played a 22Gz record in Kings Theatre, and it tore the paint off that f*cking place. Sheff G records were tearing the paint off those walls.”

— Funkmaster Flex

Depending on who you ask, you’ll get different answers about who kicked off the Brooklyn drill movement. Some credit artists like Bam Bino and Curly Savv & Dah Dah, who started putting in work around 2015. Others point to rappers like Mac Billy, Skottie, and Yung Schola. Then there’s Jezz Gasoline, the Blixky Boyz, Paparattzi Pop, KJ Balla, Kooda B, the DOD, and Rah Swish. Later on, guys like Ciggy Black, Bando Black, Max Tha Demon, Young Costamado, and Sleepy Hallow added even more fuel to the fire.

But most agree that 22Gz and Sheff G were pioneers who first showed the true potential of the movement on a large scale. After the success of 22Gz’s “Suburban,” Sheff G responded with “No Suburban,” also produced by AXL Beats. No one was calling it “Brooklyn drill” yet, but something special was starting to happen. Like the rappers who defined the Chicago and U.K. drill movements that came before, 22Gz, Sheff G, and their peers were channeling the daily realities of gang culture to make extremely urgent, visceral music that was connecting deeply with their neighborhoods. And, similar to what happened in Chicago, the whole scene was fueled by near-constant beefs and deep animosity that existed between rival crews.

The only difference was that their beats kept coming from London. AXL Beats wasn’t the only out-of-town beatmaker who helped shape the new sound of Brooklyn. Other British producers like 808 Melo, Yoz Beats, Swirv, and Yamaica also caught fire by feeding these dark, danceable beats to New York rappers.

808 Melo, the London producer behind one of U.K. drill’s big hits, Headie One’s “Know Better,” first connected to the Brooklyn scene through Sheff G. Naturally, it happened via YouTube. Shortly after Melo uploaded a “Sheff G beat,” the thundering production caught the ear of Sheff, who downloaded it from YouTube and recorded a song called “Panic Part 3” featuring Sleepy Hallow and Fresh G. 

Soon, Melo’s beats, which he describes as "hard-hitting, bouncy, and fun," ended up grabbing the attention of a wildly confident 18-year-old rapper who would become the subgenre’s biggest star.

In early 2018, Bashar Barakah Jackson was beginning to toy around with the idea of rapping. And before he ever called himself Pop Smoke or even stepped behind a mic, he was already convinced he was about to become Brooklyn’s most popular rapper.

“Before his first song came out, the kid looked me dead in the face and was like, ‘Yo, I’m about to take it over,’” remembers Robinson. “And I believed him! There was just something special about him. He didn’t even have music yet, but people knew his history from other prior incidents that happened. You could just feel the energy. It’s hard to explain. I’m in my late 30s, so I’m older. I’ve been outside. I’ve been around this for a long time, and I could just tell where the energy is at. He had it, man. He had it.”

Even though he hadn’t released music yet, Pop Smoke’s confidence impressed Robinson enough to agree to an interview. The YouTuber could tell there was something special about the hungry young rapper, and he had a feeling the interview “would go viral regardless” because Pop Smoke had already gained a reputation in the streets of Brooklyn for reasons beyond music. So he took a chance.

Outside of Original Pizza on Avenue L and East 96th Street in Canarsie, Brooklyn, Pop Smoke surrounded himself with a crew of friends as police officers looked on. Wearing an ankle bracelet, Pop breezed through the interview like a seasoned veteran, dropping quotables like, “Niggas think I look older than niggas; nah, I look better than niggas,” as his crew egged him on. 

Robinson’s intuition was right. Pop Smoke was ready for this. Having nailed his first public test as a rapper, he got to work on the actual music. Searching YouTube for Sheff G songs, he stumbled on 808 Melo’s beat from “Panic Part 3” and ripped it to his hard drive. He remembers mimicking Sheff G’s style at first, before figuring out how to put his own spin on the beat. Then he sat down and recorded a remix called “GQ,” which he would later rename and reupload as “MPR.” 

Pop Smoke’s style was fully formed out of the gate, pulling a menacing but danceable record out of Melo’s production. Somehow, with the release of his very first song, he had already hit on the sound that would soon turn him into a star. But first, he needed more of those 808 Melo Beats, so he fired off an email to the London producer.

“He was asking for beats, but I didn’t know who he was,” Melo remembers. “His email didn’t even say Pop Smoke, so I’m thinking, ‘Who is this guy?’ He's messaging me for beats, asking if they’re free or if he can buy them."

Shortly after their email exchange, Pop Smoke got his hands on another 808 Melo beat and recorded “Welcome to the Party,” a song that would change his life.

808 Melo’s bouncy, bass-heavy production was the perfect backdrop for someone like Pop Smoke to record Brooklyn drill’s defining party record. “You can bounce to my drums,” the 23-year-old producer explains. “The way I sequence my drums, you just want to dance to the music.” Still, Melo is the first to admit that Pop Smoke was the one who “really took it to a different level” with his growling vocals.

“His voice is like an instrument itself,” he says. “So you don’t need to add too much to the beat to make it a hit. His voice is literally like 50 Cent’s. I hadn’t heard a rapper like this since the early 2000s. It’s a deep voice. He was young and had a grown-man voice. And with my beats, he made this sound mainstream. We made it mainstream together.”

“Welcome to the Party” opened up new possibilities in the eyes of everyone in Brooklyn. “It changed the whole vibe of the sound,” AXL Beats says. “That kind of started a whole new direction: party drill music.”

The sound of Brooklyn drill was crystalizing. This was loud, aggressive street music that worked just as well in the club as it did in the neighborhood streets.

“I would say New York drill has more of a party vibe,” AXL says. “If you go listen to U.K. and Chicago drill music, it’s all really dark, and about murder and killing. There are some aspects of that in New York drill, too, but there’s a different vibe to it. You hear New York drill music at parties. People are getting turned up to it. Of course, people get turned up to Chief Keef’s drill music, too, but there’s a different type of energy.” He adds, “That’s my aim. You can have dark drill music, but also vibe to it. That takes it to a whole other level, making it mainstream.”

“Welcome to the Party” took over Brooklyn in the summer of 2019. It was everywhere. You heard it blasting through car speakers during the day and inside every party, bar, and club at night. The city had a new anthem.

“‘Welcome to the Party’ was so huge,” Robinson remembers. “It got to the point where little kids were doing it. You know it’s huge when you’re seeing old people accept it—like the older, older crowd. Like, old ladies saying, "Welcome to the party!" You’re like, ‘Wow, look at that.’ It just felt great.”

Pop Smoke was on fire. And not only did he have the hottest song in Brooklyn, he also had one of the most powerful men in rap behind him. 

Steven Victor is a music executive with experience as COO of Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music imprint, SVP of A&R at Universal Music Group, and head of A&R at Def Jam, among other side gigs, like being Pusha-T’s manager.

Victor had recently launched a new venture, Victor Victor, and he was looking for new artists to sign. As a native New Yorker, he had been paying attention to the bubbling scene in Brooklyn, keeping a close eye on artists like Sheff G and 22Gz, but it wasn’t until his associate Rico Beats brought Pop Smoke to his attention that he knew the movement could reach far outside the city.

“When I met Pop, heard the music, and spent some time with him, I was like, ‘Oh, this kid right here could bring this whole sound to the forefront.’” Victor says. “Everything about him said superstar. The talent was there, the potential was there, and his focus was there. We could package this sound around him, and he would be the face of it. I was always a fan of [Brooklyn drill], but I just never thought it would go beyond my car or my fucking house.”

Realizing that this could be a “fun personal project,” Victor signed Pop Smoke and went to work executing his plan to take the sound mainstream. One of the first steps was to fly 808 Melo out to New York City so he could get in the studio with Pop Smoke for the first time. Within a couple of weeks, they had recorded enough songs for Pop Smoke’s debut project, Meet the Woo.

At this point, Pop Smoke had the buzz and industry connections to flesh out a star-studded project with flashy guests, but Victor had other plans. 

“I was like, ‘Bro, we shouldn’t put any features on the tape, and Melo should do the whole thing,’” Victor says. “I told him: This sound is bubbling in Brooklyn, but you could be the face of it, and you do it so well. I see you as a superstar, and you want to create your own sound. That means that it may take you a little bit longer to get to your destination, but you’re going to get there in a real way if you do it like this, where you have your own sound. So we’ve got to keep it in-house, and you and Melo are going to lead this sound.”

Victor countered Pop Smoke’s initial hesitations about missing out on big-name collaborators by pointing out, “Anybody that’s been great has created their own lane. There’s Kanye, there’s Pharrell—you name it. Anyone who is a staple in music has created their own sound, and you’ve got a special sound with Melo. The chemistry that you two guys have together, it’s incredible.”

It worked. Meet the Woo was a success, and it featured another hit record, “Dior,” which proved that Pop Smoke could repeat the magic of his breakout song. 

“You know people always wait for a follow-up,” Robinson says. “And ‘Dior’ was just as good, if not better than the first. When ‘Dior’ dropped, it was over.”

Pop Smoke’s star was rising in tandem with exposure for the whole Brooklyn drill scene. Before long, the rest of the music industry was watching, and other young Brooklyn rappers were at the center of major-label bidding wars. Later that summer, Fivio Foreign’s AXL Beats-produced “Big Drip” became another big Brooklyn hit, leading to a seven-figure deal with Columbia Records.

No one could stop the momentum of the Brooklyn drill movement, but the New York Police Department sure tried. On October, 9, 2019, the NYPD sent a letter to the organizers of Rolling Loud, requesting to remove five New York hip-hop artists (including Pop Smoke, 22Gz, and Sheff G) from the lineup of their inaugural New York festival. The letter, signed by assistant chief Martin Morales, claimed that the rappers “have been affiliated with recent acts of violence citywide.” Pressuring Rolling Loud to drop each artist from the bill, the letter concluded with: “The New York City Police Department believes if these individuals are allowed to perform, there will be a higher risk of violence.”

This was the most widely publicized example of New York police barring Brooklyn rappers from performing in their own city, but it wasn’t an isolated incident. For the entirety of his career, Pop Smoke was kept from performing inside New York City venues—a pattern he spoke openly about with Complex in early February. “Any nigga that’s coming up from the city, that’s doing good, that’s doing what I’m doing right now is gonna get targeted [by police],” he claimed.

“Rolling Loud, that was a big show that got cancelled,” he says. “That shit came out of nowhere. I don’t understand. You got all this fuckin’ security, big ass guns, snipers on the roof, all this crazy shit, and you worried about Pop Smoke performing? Y’all need to protect me. I just don’t get their logic sometimes.”

Pop Smoke wasn’t alone. 22Gz says he’s been repeatedly stopped from performing in New York City for the past year. “If [the police] see me post a flyer, they’ll call the venue,” he reveals. “They’ll say, ‘If he performs here, we’re going to harass everybody at the venue.’”

“It’s reality. It’s raw. They’re letting you in on their world: where they live, how they move, their lingo, their slang.”

— Jamel Robinson, MelzTV

New York’s biggest new stars were getting shut out of their own city, but that didn’t stop the explosive momentum of the whole scene. As 2019 drew to a close, the sound went national when Drake jumped on an AXL Beats beat (“War”) after being impressed by his production on Fivio Foreign’s “Big Drip.” Days later, Drake told Rap Radar, “It’s amazing that the New York drill movement is getting so big.”

The following week, another superstar attached himself to the wave when Travis Scott linked up with Pop Smoke over AXL Beats and 808 Melo production on “GATTI.” Recalling the moment he found out Travis Scott had jumped on his song, Melo says, “AXL sent me a little snippet of the ‘GATTI’ tune. I was listening on my phone, and I was like, ‘Who’s this?’ And then he told me it was Travis Scott. I was like, ‘What?! Travis Scott on drill beat?’ It wasn’t even just about me having a Travis Scott placement. It was more so, he jumped on a drill song, and he’s so big. I was just like, ‘OK, this is going to go crazy now.’”

This wasn’t just a local Brooklyn movement anymore. The world was paying attention.

“Travis was someone who hadn’t jumped on drill before,” Melo says. “That’s when trends start. NAV is jumping on drill beats now with Pop Smoke. No one’s even heard NAV on a dark song before. So this is it. This is another big genre now. Obviously trap is a big thing. But now U.K.-drill-style beats in New York are becoming a thing, too.”

On February 16, a concert dubbed Big Drip, co-headlined by Pop Smoke, Fivio Foreign, and Sheff G, was set to take place at Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre. On the day of the performance, Pop Smoke dropped out amid rumors that his absence was due to NYPD interference, but the evening still represented the first time Brooklyn drill had a real showcase in its own city. Anyone who was in attendance that night will tell you how powerful the experience was.

“The BK Drip concert was important,” says Funk Flex, who served as DJ throughout the night. “Four thousand kids came out to a theater to see Brooklyn artists, and they were all safe. If the artists remain friendly with each other and peaceful, this will grow.”

Stressing the value of moments like this, Flex adds, “Some of the artists are having troubles with precincts and performing in venues. You have to work in conjunction with the venues to have a peaceful show. And it's not just a peaceful show. You've got to have a show that looks peaceful, too. It’s not just about what goes on inside the concert. It’s about everybody getting home safe after they leave the concert.”

Flex’s biggest takeaway from that night had nothing to do with police, though. For the first time, he felt for himself just how powerful this music was.

“I knew all these guys were popular, but then I played a 22Gz record in Kings Theatre and it tore the paint off that fucking place,” he remembers. “Sheff G records were tearing the paint off those walls. I understood that the songs were big, but I didn't understand the passion the fans have for this music until that concert. The way it was tearing the paint off that theater was so crazy to me.”

Just three days later, tragedy struck. Pop Smoke was shot and killed during a home invasion in a rented Los Angeles house on February 19. L.A. police say there were other people with him when the incident happened at 4 a.m., but the rapper was alone in one section of the home when four men in hoodies broke in and shot him twice. As of mid-April, the crime has not been solved and there have been no arrests.

The death of Brooklyn’s biggest star came as a major blow to the drill community.

“I’ve got to be honest, man. Since Pop Smoke died, the energy has felt a little different,” says Funk Flex. “A little bit of gas was taken out. Since Pop Smoke passed, I feel like New York hip-hop has been paused for a second.”

This pause has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which hit New York City harder than anywhere in America. Brooklyn drill sounds best in a crowded room with people dancing and yelling along to the music; it doesn’t hit quite the same inside an empty apartment. You need to hear it outside.

Brooklyn is resilient, though. Just as these artists overcame hurdles put in front of them by the New York Police Department, they’re confident they’ll rally together in the coming months and push the sound forward. They have to. They’re doing it for Pop Smoke now.

“Since Pop Smoke’s death, everyone wants to push that style,” 808 Melo says. “He made it mainstream, and other people know that this could be a thing now. I know that some of his close friends, like Rah Swish and them, they’re literally going crazy for him. They won’t stop. They’re going to push this on in the future.” AXL Beats agrees: “I feel like New York City is more motivated than ever. We're going to take this to a whole new level, just for him.”

Robinson adds, “It affected everybody, because you even see artists who said ‘rest in peace’ who didn’t even get along with him. But at the street level, there’s still a lot of hot artists coming out. It affected people, but it didn’t stop artists from doing their thing.”

Victor points out that everyone associated with Brooklyn drill is ready to rally behind Pop Smoke, regardless of past beefs, because Pop always went out of his way to support the rest of the scene. Victor remembers Pop trying to convince him to sign Fivio Foreign and other artists shortly after he signed his own deal.

“Pop was really, really about the sound, most of all,” Victor explains. “I think part of the reason why a lot of the artists and producers really want to ride out for Pop is because he was so genuine. The minute he got on, he was trying to put everybody else on.”

Now, producers like AXL Beats and 808 Melo will play important roles when it comes to pushing the Brooklyn drill sound forward. Before Pop Smoke’s death, they both signed to Victor Victor as part of his plan to take this around the world.

“We’re from Brooklyn, and we love this sound,” Victor says. “We have all the resources, we have all the connections, we have the vision, and we have the focus to make it go global. I told [AXL, Melo, and other producers], ‘Come join this team and let’s get this thing together instead of going about it separately. Let’s all go at it as a team and make it what it’s supposed to be.’”

Both AXL and Melo say everything changed when they signed. “The first time I went to New York, Steven told me he could get me JAY-Z,” Melo recalls. “Who else could get me JAY-Z in the U.K.? No one. No one could get me. And he said he knew JAY-Z personally. He changed my life.”

Victor says he believes in these artists and the sound they’re pushing so much that he’s even made calls to try and get them in the same room as A-list artists like Beyoncé. “I just started speaking to everybody I know about them. Hand to hand, not just sending beats. I hit JAY-Z last year, and I was like, ‘Yo, bro, I found these kids. This is the new wave. Let me send you some joints, because six to eight months from now, this is where it’s going to be.’ Same thing with Quavo, Travis Scott, everyone. Even Kanye.”

Melo and AXL Beats both hint they have unreleased songs with major mainstream artists, but Victor makes it clear that if the sound is to continue on the trajectory it was on before Pop’s death, it’ll need to be carried by a homegrown artist.

“Pop Smoke was going to be the artist that broke the sound, and unfortunately he didn’t really get a chance to,” he says. “Obviously we have our Pop Smoke album, and that's going to be super impactful, but I think in order for it to really go the distance, they’re going to have to break an artist. It’s going to have to be a new artist, not an established artist, that takes this sound global. Somebody has to be the face of it, and it can’t be someone like Drake, because Drake has his own sound. It can’t be a Migo, because they have their own sound. We’re going to have to break an artist.

AXL and Melo share Victor’s vision. “I just hope that it keeps getting bigger, and becomes the biggest subgenre,” Melo says, “side by side with trap.”

The pair of producers are currently working on a joint project that will feature Brooklyn drill rappers, London rappers, and some bigger mainstream artists. And that’s not the only thing Victor has planned this year. “I’m working really, really hard on this Pop Smoke album,” he says. “And I’m working on a documentary for him, too. And his foundation. I’m just really focused on making this label like the next Jimmy Iovine and Interscope.”

“I’m working really, really hard on this Pop Smoke album. And I’m working on a documentary for him, too.”

— Steven Victor

In December 2020, Brooklyn rap will get another shot in the arm. Bobby Shmurda and Rowdy Rebel will each return home from prison sentences stemming from a police raid in 2014. In the months before the arrests, Bobby’s “Hot Nigga” dominated Brooklyn and became the song of the summer in New York City, ultimately peaking in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart. As the Shmoney dance took over the city, Bobby and Rowdy’s GS9 crew brought a new energy to Brooklyn that hadn’t been felt in years. Although the term “Brooklyn drill” wasn’t used until years later, many credit them with igniting the first spark that led to this movement. With their release date looming, everyone is anticipating a triumphant return to an invigorated local scene.

“When Bobby and Rowdy come back, it’s going to be ridiculous,” Robinson says. “What they had was incredible. People are always looking for New York and Brooklyn to do something. Now, we’ve got a new sound, and the people are fuckin’ with it. Bobby and them are pioneers for that sound, also. They’re the first youth that got people looking back at Brooklyn. And when they come home, the momentum is going to be already built up in their neighborhood, so they can just slide back in without any problems.”

Victor expects Bobby and Rowdy to be ready with new music shortly after their return. “I still speak to Rowdy all the time, and every time he calls me, he’s spitting bars over the phone, so I know when he comes home, he’s going to have music ready to drop. Boom.”

In the immediate future, rappers like Fivio Foreign, Sheff G, 22Gz, and Smoove’L will carry the sound forward, and they each show a clear understanding of their roles as torchbearers for their neighborhoods. Over the course of three weeks in mid-February, Complex spent time with each of them (as well as the late Pop Smoke) for a series of profiles you can find below. 

These are the stories of five of Brooklyn drill’s most important rappers.

CREDITS

  • DESIGN Warren Cochrane
  • WEB DEVELOPER Osman Emara / Bill Shouldis
  • PHOTO 1st Slide: Video via Getty/Erik Van Ingen, Video via Getty/piola666; 6th Slide: Image via Getty/pawel.gaul.