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The Future of U.K. Rap: Drill and Drake's Helping Hand

Rap fans watch history in the making everyday and watch it pass them by. In 1991, Tupac fans had no clue the legacy he would leave in rap. Aubrey Graham fans watching his G-rated flow on Canadian show, Degrassi, would be shocked to see the same person as the current face of rap. Southside Chicago residents in the 2010s have been living in this history in the making thanks to Chief Keef’s pioneer of Chicago drill. Since we've got our fingers on the pulse of the industry, however, we're here to remove your rap FOMO and keep you up to date with rising artists. Here's a look into rap future.

67, a U.K. drill group. Picture by David Townhill.

The rap industry is on the cusp of a Big Bang thanks to the United Kingdom. The future of rap will be led by the country, starting with their blossoming drill scene. Drill, a subgenre of rap, has come a long way in a short time. Originated by Chief Keef in the Southside of Chicago, fostered by Drake, reinvented in Brooklyn by Pop Smoke, and finally brought to the mainstream eye with TikTok, the subgenre is bursting at the seams, itching for international attention. This upcoming explosion will not only bring U.K. drill to an unparalleled level, but its ashes will certainly influence the U.K. rap scene. Evolving at such a rapid pace, it's only a matter of time before drill gets the world's undivided attention.

The U.K. rap scene has followed a similar progression as the United States. Following in our footsteps, they had their emcees, b-boys, and gangstas. The genre’s success began in the 80’s but didn’t seem to last an entire decade. As the music scene took a different turn in the U.K. during the 90’s, the infant rap scene went underground, developing a new sound through the influence of other genres and relinquishing ties from American rap. This underground scene became an important mark on the genre’s short timeline as it was given a chance to grow before truly reaching the public's eye. Young and upcoming, this genre was impressionable, taking cues from afrobeat, reggae, EDM, and more. Subgenres quickly grew from the new genre, creating more diverse sounds and allowing them to grow. But as time went on, only two genres seemed to matter under the larger umbrella that was U.K. rap: drill and grime.

A perfect storm allowed U.K. drill to grow to its current potential. Around 2010, the U.K. rap scene was still in its infancy, still working on fostering new genres with influences from Youtube and other new social medias. On the other side of the world, Chief Keef was perfecting his craft and pioneering the drill style. The U.K. rap scene, as impressionable as it was, integrated Keef's work seamlessly and allowed it to influence cultural and political standing. With drill gaining more popularity across the pond in New York as well, both eventually overshadowed Chicago, the first city introduced to the subgenre.

Chief Keef, 2013. Picture by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

While heading drill in Chicago, Chief Keef's popularity increased exponentially overnight, but left an impact. Years after his influence, in 2018, Pitchfork named drill as "the decade’s most influential subgenre." Even so, the U.K., which nationalized drill more than the U.S., didn't see the same success. The genre is yet to hit its peak in global popularity. Still, one rapper decided to test the first follower theory and branch out to support the subgenre.

The U.K. rap scene first took the global stage thanks to Drake. His appearance on British rapper Dave’s “Wanna Know Remix” in 2016 was his first attempt at making the genre popular in the U.S. The track, however, never truly got the attention it so deserved.

Luckily, Drake didn’t give up on his venture to bring the genre to international success. Less than a year later in 2017, the U.K. scene would have a few global headlines, some leaving a bad taste in American listener’s mouths. But as is always true with the media, any press is good press.

In March, 2017, Drake released More Life, filled with British rappers and singers in further attempts to boost the genre’s reputation in the U.S.’s eyes. Tracks featuring these U.K. rappers such as “KMT, ” “Skepta Interlude,” and “No Long Talk,” would be elevated naturally by the album’s number one slot on the Billboard 100 charts, but not without controversy. While “KMT” was a hit in the U.K., American fans couldn’t get over the aggressive similarity it had to another track. It was the comparison to XXXTentacion’s “Look At Me” that outshined Giggs’ phenomenal feature.

Just six months later, comedian turned rapper Big Shaq released “Man’s Not Hot,” a satirical representation of U.K. drill. The track would blow up all around the world. In America, the track became the physical embodiment of the subgenre, a laughing stock as listeners couldn’t hear past the piercing accent to see the real joke, the jestful mockery of drill. The hilarity of “Man’s Not Hot” seemed to tear down the hard work of More Life, but continued to push U.K. rap to the front of fans' attention.

While Drake worked on a revival of the U.K. crime-drama Top Boy, the U.K. rap scene would take a hiatus from its attempts to penetrate the U.S. market. For almost two years, from late 2017 to late 2019, the genre would take its leave from American headlines, only until the show's soundtrack was released in September 2019. Drake's bonus track, "Behind Barz" which heavily featured U.K. drill influences and used a drill beat, was the face of the album's popularity in America, but sat low on the Billboard Hot 100 chart at #75.

Though a low ranking, "Behind Barz" rekindled the budding relationship between U.K. drill and American rap. Later in 2020, Drake continued to work with artists such as Headie One on "Only You Freestyle" and released another attempt at recreating U.K. drill with "War." Neither song performed exceptionally well on the charts, unfortunately. "War" peaked at the 52nd slot on Billboard Hot 100 Chart, while in the U.K. charts, Headie One's "Only You Freestyle" peaked at #5. In America, the same single didn't make it past the #18th slot on Billboard's Bubbling Under Hot 100 Chart.

Top Boy is revived by Drake. Photo from Netflix/Twitter

Drake has been a key player in increasing drill's popularity. From the start, his dedication to drill has helped British rap work towards a Renaissance, just waiting for its global fanbase. Drake's influence has also encouraged other rappers to collaborate with drill, grime, and U.K. rappers such as Future, A$AP Rocky, and others. But with something as big as the international success of a genre, it'll take more than just one well-known rapper to secure U.K. drill’s foot in the door.

Let us know in the comments if you’ve heard any of Drake’s U.K. collabs. What do you think?


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