Over the latter half of the 2010s, drill became a rap’s most popular sub-genre. Many still argue about whether it was the UK or US that catapulted the genre to mainstream success, and of course it’s still up for debate. However, the menacing production, pioneered by Chicagoan producer Young Chop in 2012, unknowingly started a rap revolution. From start to finish, we walk you through that revolution in 23 simple tracks (there’s a Spotify embed below too, though sadly not all of these songs are on the streaming platform). Where we end up might surprise you.
Chief Keef ft. Lil Reese, ‘I Don’t Like’ (2012)
We start our drill story with the genre’s credited creator, Chief Keef. Just a 16-year-old Chicagoan living at his gran’s, Keef delivered one of the most influential songs of the 2010s. Slinging out his rhymes in a cocksure cadence, everyone aspired to be as cool as Keef. And still, to this day, many budding rappers would credit this very song as inspiration.
Best bit: Obvs, the chorus! “A fuck n****, that’s that shit I don’t like / A snitch n****, that’s that shit I don’t like”.
Lil Herb and Lil Bibby, ‘Kill Shit’ (2012)
Nowadays you may argue that these two aren’t drill stars. But the now-called G Herbo and record label exec Lil Bibby started their career spitting slow too. The two added fuel to the drill hype with ‘Kill Shit’, which is arguably one of the best pioneering drill tracks. Surprisingly, this is one of few beats you’ll hear G Herbo rap on time to, crushing the longtime joke of Herbo’s inability to catch a beat.
Best bit: The simple fact that Herbo proves he can rap on beat: “When it’s drama time / Run up on a n****a with the llamas flyin”.
Lil Reese, Fredo Santana, and Lil Durk, ‘Wassup’ (2013)
Following Chief Keef’s lead, we saw more great drill talent emerge out of Chicago. Keef’s friends, Lil Reese and Fredo Santana, delivered their verses in a similar, slow but confident cadence. But Lil Durk features one of the cleanest early drill verses ever; the ad-libs and flow seamless.
Best bit: This lazy bad-boy track was good for its hook: “What’s up with all these fuck ni****s / They fake as fuck, man, I can’t trust n****s”.
Giggs & Waka Flocka, ‘Lemme Get Dat’ (2012)
Both are arguably rap pioneers, and you could speculate that this collaboration was the start of drill’s crossover to the UK. Many UK rappers were in love with Chief Keef’s minimal style, which Atlanta’s Waka pulled off expertly, and also looked up to London’s Giggs as the godfather of ‘road rap’. This song arrived in a confusing, genreless era of UK rap, but things began to change after this. Coincidence?
Best bit: The clever metaphors Giggs delivers are mind-bending if you think too hard: “Man’s blessed, I be fucking with saints / Where’s your apostles at?”.
Stickz, ‘Let’s Get It’ (2013)
Arguably one of the first UK drill songs ever, 150’s Stickz gives you cocky disses over Chicago’s blaring instrumentals. Hailing from south London, Stickz offered unapologetically British rhymes, which were unheard of. While peers such as Sneakbo made typical UK rap, he stood out amongst the crowd.
Best bit: Nowadays everyone wants to be the King or Queen of whatever, but Stcikz was ahead of his time: “They like the way that I’m sounding / King of Brixton, they want crown it”.
Grizzy and M Dargg, ‘Look Like You’ (2013)
But Stickz wasn’t the only one of his mates to fall in love with the Chicago sound, as his friends Grizzy and M Dargg picked up a pen to these rapid beats. ‘Look Like You’ is another one of those pioneering tracks for London’s transition from ‘road rap’ to drill, even if the only version you remember is the afrobeat remix.
Best bit: The collective moment you have in a rave when that first line comes on: “Trap, trap in a bando / I don’t wanna look like you”.
67 (LD), ‘Live Corn’ (2014)
Emerging around the same time as 150, there was a small group called 67. Now renowned as the UK’s founders of drill, 67 were the faces of the new sound. With friends telling the group that they sounded just like Keef and his Glory Boys, 67 tried out their sedated flows. Tracks such as ‘Skengman’ gaining them popularity in the streets, but the addition of a new member, LD, turned out to be their secret ingredient.
Best bit: LD was one of the first driller in the UK to express his real hardships, and not just how dangerous he could be: “I don’t rap cause I’m tryna get a deal / I’m still out here tryna eat a meal”.
Section Boyz, ‘No Rules’ (2014)
Before gaining fame with staple rap tracks such as ‘Lock Arff’ and ‘Trapping Ain’t Dead’, this south London collective started off with a slew of drill tracks. Now, two MOBO awards and a change of name later, you cannot forget how the group introduced themselves.
Best bit: Some going hard with clever metaphors, you could decide which one is your favourite. However, Sleekz and Inch’s witty and gritty verses told you the truth about living in Croydon.
Slim Jesus, ‘Drill Time’ (2015)
Let’s go back to America to find Ohio’s own, Slim Jesus. Going viral with this – in hindsight – lacklustre song, Slim moved the hard-hitting sounds of drill out of the Illinois capital and into his little city. But after ‘Drill Time’, Slim Jesus and the Ohio drill scene didn’t quite take off as his hype may have promised.
Best bit: This is a track where poor penmanship that can’t be masked by a great flow, but for some weird reason ‘Drill Time’ just works.
67, ‘Let’s Lurk’ (2016)
As the Chicago scene started to fizzle out, the UK honed in on the genre’s popularity. With a few tweaks here and there, there now was UK drill. The first of many features where UK veterans joined drill newcomers, ‘Let’s Lurk’ felt like a huge milestone. In a turn of events that shows its cultural relevance, Big Shaq later sampled the track on his 2017 parody ‘Man’s Not Hot’ .
Best bit: Giggs does make this track significantly better with his metaphorical lyrics, even dropping in a DragonBall Z reference: “They know a n****a bring that next level shit / N****a, call me Hollowman Saiyan”.
Moscow17 (Gb X LooseScrew X Tizzy T), ‘Moscow March’ (2017)
2016 onwards was really the time when UK drill culture was at the forefront of UK rap. The unique adaptation of the Chicago sound was brand new, along with the blacked out tracksuits and colloquialisms, drill started to become quintessentially British. ‘Moscow March’ was a turbo-charged comeback so catchy that you heard it at every party that summer. Making you parade in style and proud of your ends, this send back at Zone 2 was must on any playlist.
Best bit: Scream it with me: “It’s Moscow, B / Where the Russians be”.
Harlem Spartans (Bis X Blanco X Active X MizOrMac), ‘Kennington Where It Started’ (2017)
Harlem? Isn’t that in New York? Yes, but in London certain districts are referred to as other warzones. So while the raging gang culture out of New York still persists, it seems fitting. The Harlem boys created an iconic anthem in UK drill and were one of the first groups to do so since 67. It’s worth noting that one of Drake’s favourite drill artists, Loski, is a part of this very group.
Best bit: Shall Bis rest in peace as he’ll always be remembered for his icon line, summarising the street code perfectly: “If gang pull up, are you gonna back your bredrin?”.
CGM (Digga D X Sav’O X T.Y), ‘Next Up Part 1’ (2017)
On the Mixtape Madness YouTube page, Ladbroke Grove’s CGM (formerly known as 1011) prove just how notorious they with a daunting instrumental. Often described as the best UK drill track ever, it sees the west Londoners puff out their chest at their opps with lyrical jabs. However, despite Digga D’s tongue-twisting bars, or T.Y’s proverbial opening line, this is one of many videos taken down by London’s Met Police in a misguided attempt to lessen gang and knife crime. The fact remains: it’s the perfect drill song.
Best bit: There are so many (mostly in Digga D’s verse) but the perfect play on the dancehall star Buju Banton is always a highlight: “If you want Buju, man got that / Ban and TT smash it and dot that, chop that”.
Headie One ft. RV, ‘Know Better’ (2018)
If you didn’t know Headie beforehand, ‘Know Better’ was that song that made you get to know him. Played at every party, college lunch hall, shopping malls – you name it – this drill song was blaring out of every young rap fan’s speaker. Drake even pinched Headie’s iconic “shhh!” flow for his UK ‘Behind bars’ freestyle. What a trendsetter!
Best bit: “Opps wanna see me get nicked with a ‘Shh’ / But I know better / Next day shh got-got by shh”
Mr. Affiliate, ‘Bars At The Sesh’ (2018)
Although turned into a meme with people taking the piss out of this freestyle, Ireland’s Mr Affiliate was the first face to emerge from its drill scene. With his idiosyncratic flow (which you might say London’s Russ MB borrowed for Top 40 smash ‘Gun Lean’), he shows that Ireland’s got talent too.
Best bit: That viral jumpy line “How many affiliates? / Gotta give blood for their benefits”.
Unknown T, ‘Homerton B’ (2018)
You can sum this song in one word: record-breaking. The east Londoner became the first drill artist to ever break into the UK charts with this UK drill classic, which peaked at Number 48; the song later went Silver, indicating 200,000 records sold. With everyone all summer long making dance videos to the rampant track, this was the start of the commercial success of the unfairly demonised genre.
Best bit: “Baby, bend ya’ back and then dig it.” Iconic.
King Von, ‘Crazy Story’ (2019)
Made famous by a viral video of a boy rapping lyrics (bar cuss words) in his booster seat, King Von’s ‘Crazy Story’ is just what it says on the tin – a crazy story. Telling a convincing tale of betrayal, Von uses his words to paint a vivid picture involving gang life and love. Not to mention that ‘Crazy Story’ was one of the first big Chicago drill songs to break out of the city in a while.
Best bit: Not song-related but the above viral baby video does trump the track itself.
7even 3 (T.Y X Stackz X VK), ‘De Pijp’ (2019)
And when you think drill couldn’t be anymore global, here comes the brand new Dutch scene, blowing UK drillers out the water – especially Amsterdam’s own 7even3, whose selections of diligent drillers can go against some of the best in the UK. With their most popular track to date, ‘De Pijp’, the group shows us the relentless side to lawless teens in the Netherlands through entertaining flows and cadence.
Best bit: The trio blend their native dutch language with British slang: “Ik finesse je fucking peng niet / Kijk ik ben hier voor me saaf”
ONEFOUR, ‘The Message’ (2019)
Oh, drill is not only transatlantic – hell no! Australia’s first drill group, emerging from Mount Druitt, a Sydney suburb, started making Aussie drill in 2017. But it’s this 2019 bop that really made Australia one of the most exciting drill regions to date.
Best bit: Unpopular opinion but doesn’t Spenny14 have a perfect voice to be a garage MC?
970 Block (KG970 X B10), ‘Back 2 Back’ (2019)
Just when you thought drill could be anymore fuego, in comes Spanish drill, a quickened burst of adrenaline. The country full of naturally speedy speakers delivers a double dose of the UK’S frenetic sound – and these boys show that perfectly.
Best bit: After trying to get the “Purum-purum your shh” ad-lib out of your head, KG970 compares his talent to that of Headie One, which is flattering for the UK: “I’m the one like Headie.”
GAZO, ‘Drill FR #1’ (2019)
Although France has always had a rich rap scene, drill is a new addition. The country’s talented spitters wreak havoc on UK-produced beats to join in on the international hype, and Gazo doesn’t disappoint.
Best bit: The French have always had great flows, and GAZO’s is refreshingly skittish.
Pop Smoke, ‘Dior’ (2019)
“You cannot say pop and forget the smoke!”: words that should spring to mind when you hear the infamous name Pop Smoke. The Brooklynite’s catchy hooks and husky deliveries attracted drill lovers from all over the world to the budding Brooklyn rap movement. Sadly taken before his time, having died in February, the Carnasie star luckily gave us this summer banger.
Best bit: His ability to bound you to the dancefloor, bellowing “Wait! Wait!” with his trademark growl. Anything (and I mean anything) can wait until this song is finished.
Drake, ‘War’ (2019)
To finish this journey, we have to mention the biggest rap star – if not pop star – on the planet. Drake’s love for the UK finally resulted in him producing a subpar drill track. OK, this list is called is about the best drill songs, but this one gets an honourable mention simply for existing. From a big city in a mid-western state that bypassed the UK and now has ended up in Toronto, drill’s world tour has made some incredible stops… but there are still more places to visit.
Best bit: Um… that Drake did a drill song? With the lyrics a cheesy homage to UK slang and culture as well as a shoddy London accent, ‘War’ doesn’t really have a best bit.