The Rise of Drill Rap Radio

Drill rap radio is where you’ll hear rappers talking about drugs, gangs and gun violence in ways that are both blunt and direct. It’s a genre that originated in communities where the issues are so severe that people are quick to turn to violence. The artists behind this style of hip hop have seen firsthand the tragedy of violence in their daily lives and their music reflects that reality.

The genre’s most prominent feature is a slower, trap-music-esque beat and a style of rap that doesn’t lean on wordplay or complex metaphors to make an impact. This spartan approach to the art form has made it a magnet for young people who feel alienated from society and want to connect with their peers through music. Drill also speaks to major societal issues, highlighting the way that violence inflicts communities and the hope that they can change.

Some critics have called drill rap a glorify of violence, but the scene’s most prominent rappers aren’t rapping about their violent life to sound tough or have a “hard image.” They’re rapping about a world many outsiders would find horrifying and describing what it’s like to live there. It’s not a glamorous lifestyle and it’s not something the rappers are proud of, but they’re trying to express their realities with honesty and authenticity.

Since Brooklyn drill rapper Pop Smoke’s tragic death in 2020, the king of New York’s spartan scene has been a quiet figure named Shawny Binladen. He has reimagined the genre by relying on a practice foundational to hip hop: sampling. In a time when the music industry is more and more focused on how much money it can bring to a performer, Shawny is making a name for himself by staying true to his roots.

Whether it’s a sample-based track or one that incorporates classic sliding basslines, his sound is all Shawny. He’s not the only rapper who’s done this, but he’s the one who’s taken it to a whole other level.

As he works on his next project, a compilation of tracks that spans the last decade, he’s been thinking about what’s to come for the future of drill rap. He tells WHYY that he believes the genre’s popularity isn’t going anywhere because it’s about a generation of people who are desperate to connect with others through music.

WHYY’s Gun Violence Prevention Beat covers local, national and international efforts to prevent shootings. We’re bringing you stories that raise awareness, spark conversation and provide resources. This summer, the beat is focused on gun violence in Philadelphia and how artists and community groups are working to stop it. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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