In the past year, UK drill has burst out of its largely London-centric confines.
Inspired by pioneers in the UK, adjacent scenes have sprung up in Ireland, Australia, and even the homegrown hip-hop heartlands of Brooklyn, New York. Drake (of course) has got in on the act, collaborating with British producer AXL Beats on new track War, and Brooklynite upstart Pop Smoke has taken the world by storm with his blend of 50 Cent-indebted rap and ghoulish UK drill sonics.
But the genre is still young, and we’re seeing its sound continue to blossom. As 2020 gets underway, artists at the forefront of the scene are exploring uncharted territory.
Here are eight MCs and producers - a mix of up-and-coming artists and more seasoned stalwarts - who are currently navigating UK drill into its exciting future.
Bandokay & Double Lz
Two of the most prominent young members of the OFB crew, Bandokay & Double Lz made 2019 their year -- and are set to repeat the feat in 2020. The two young apprentices have found their footing in everything from Afroswing tracks with Yxng Bane to the murky environments of Headie One’s raps. An impressive debut mixtape, Frontstreet, offered a broader showcase of their talents. Meanwhile singles like Ambush, Once In A While and Mazza continue to rack up views by the million with ease.
When Shaybo says she’s been “rapping since Limewire”, it’s no exaggeration. Look hard enough and you’ll find videos of her freestyling over early road rap and dancehall instrumentals. Today, the self-proclaimed Queen of the South is determined to shake up UK drill’s ‘boys club’ image, and has the dynamism, energy, and swagger to do it.
Jimmy, the white-masked rapper from Homerton, made his mark last year participating in fellow East Londoner KO’s Tim Westwood Crib Session and delivering a Next Up? freestyle that showed his ability to oscillate between sleek trap and the archetypal, macabre UK drill sound. Jimmy possesses a novelistic detail to his stories of grinding and sticking to the dogma of the streets -- and along with the rest of the Homerton collective is set to push the transgressive genre of drill to unseen heights, both sonically and thematically, in 2020.
Since bursting onto the scene with her debut single Need Focus, and a Who’s Got Bars? freestyle, TeeZandos has made one thing clear in her no-holds-barred lyrics: “Fuck being normal, I want to be the oddest one.” She refuses to sugarcoat her message, and oozes with the contemporary idiosyncrasies that every Snapchat-obsessed teenager in the capital can relate to – from getting your aunty mad, to heading out to tear up central London. Her music is dark and uncompromising, sure, but it also seems that TeeZandos is on her way to carving her own path in the ever-mutating scene.
Woolwich’s Fizzler first turned heads with his Next Up? freestyle, which grew to become something of an underrated gem in the drill community. Shortly after, he banked on those shards of promises with a debut EP, WET IT SZN, full of candid metaphors and laser-sharp flows. With his consistency, undeniable chemistry with drill production mainstay Ghosty, and a Chip-like ability to never run out of bars, Fizzler shows no signs of slowing down.
A rising member of pioneering Brixton crew 150 (whose founding members include Grizzy, Stickz, and Mdargg), M24’s videos are peppered with recognisable faces from the UK drill scene -- and he has the rapping credentials to justify the attention too. In 2019 he secured his position as one to watch in the ever-changing UK drill scene, and has shown the potential to crossover into the mainstream. With his gravelly delivery and pinpoint flow, M24 is among the best when it comes to crafting luxury-suite drill. M24 shows there’s nothing wrong with switching things up while still respecting the formula that’s made drill so hard to ignore in the first place.
808Melo is the producer behind Headie One’s Know Better (the beat for which Stormzy also vocalled in his latest spat with Wiley), but is perhaps best known for being breakout Brooklyn rapper Pop Smoke’s first-choice producer. Hailing from Ilford, 808Melo has been paramount in the transatlantic exchange of American rappers adopting UK drill’s ghoulish sonic palette to craft their own street stories. Having already worked with the likes of Sheff G and Lil Tjay, 808Melo kicked off the new year off with a production credit on Travis Scott’s new JackBoys project, and his growing influence is proving that it’s possible for UK sounds to penetrate the usually-ambivalent US rap audience.
Listen to our UK rap and grime Spotify playlist