It’s no surprise that we at Studio 11 are veterans in the Chicago Hip Hop and Rap scene. Having recorded a few of the famed originators ourselves, and many of the newer upcoming rap acts, we consider ourselves lucky to witness the evolution of Chicago Hip hop and Rap music first hand. The genre has undergone so many changes in the Windy City over the years, but where it is at now?
Those who follow the lineage of the Hip Hop and Rap scene in Chicago are familiar with it’s origins. Going back to the early 90’s, it wasn’t unusual to hear an east coast jazz or soul sample, along side west coast synth lines , and fast double time rapping (Crucial Conflict, Do or Die, Twista). These tracks usually had conscious lyrics that often times talked about discrimination, struggle, and corruptions of the political and public system. Taking the sounds from the coasts, they resurfaced them into a new style and were amongst the first to be identified with a “Chicago sound”. After almost a decade , during the late 90’s a new style began to emerge as artists like Kanye West, No I.D., and Common began to have an even further effect on the Rap scene in Chicago. Artists like Kanye West, who rapped about alternative things that had nothing to do with being “hard” on the streets, was a huge hit amongst audiences that were used to hearing conscious political rap from the midwest, or gangster rap from the coasts (NWA, Snoop, Ice T).
Kanye also paved the road for other famed rappers such as Kid Kudi, Drake, and Chicago’s own Lupe Fiasco, Twista and The Cool Kids. While this style rode out for a fair portion of the 2000’s, a darker side of rap was forming amongst the youth on the south side of Chicago. Influenced by it’s southern Trap roots, a new form of Rap emerges called “Drill music”. Comprised of heavy 808 percussion, fast hi hats, along side grim, violent lyrics, it’s roots can be narrowed down to one Chicago young man :Chief Keef. Artist Chief Keef is largely responsible for introducing Drill into the Chicago rap scene, and after his claim to fame paid off, other south side artists began to follow. Lil Durk, Lil Herb, King Louie, Montana of 300, Lil Reese, Lil Bibby all exploded in 2013-2014, and continue to gain fame.
So now that Chicago is most recently associated with Drill Music, lets take a further look into what exactly makes this subgenre so popular in Chicago and around the nation. Drill, being a slang term for automatic weapons, is very much tied into gang violence on the south side of Chicago. When listening to Drill music, it starts to become apparent that it is used less for political expression (compared to it’s past conscious rap style), but more as a tool to state one’s day to day living. Whereas some of the rap predecessors may have discussed topics of discrimination and corrupt politics using clever euphemisms and metaphors, Drillers tend to have more of a focus on direct delivery towards an opposing rival, or about their role on the streets. To quote Chief Keef “I know what I’m doing. I mastered it. And I don’t even really use metaphors or punchlines. ‘Cause I don’t have to. But I could. … I think that’s doing too much. I’d rather just say what’s going on right now. … I don’t really like metaphors or punchlines like that.” Metaphors , clever rhyming, are all irrelevant to the goal of Drill music and when you think about it, makes a great deal of sense. If the goal is to ward off your enemy, or taunt them, wouldn’t you want to make that point as clear as possible.? Any trickery, or allegory gets int the way and skews the message.
What is also interesting about the Drill scene, is the age that these artists are getting recognition. Chief Keef , age 16, Lil Durk age 19, and in an extreme case Lil Mouse (picked up by Lil wayne), was a mere 13 years old when he started. One may argue that this is a key role in the success of Drill music, as many americans idolize the teen pop star (Justin Beiber, Miley cyrus , Selena Gomez). Young age, controversial lyrics, hard hitting beats, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why this formula continues to bring success.
It is also safe to say that that unlike earlier forms of rap in Chicago, where we gathered sounds from the east and west coast and applied made it our own, Drill music is the first we can uniquely call our own . A product of it’s environment, hailing from the South side, Drill music continues to dominate the rap scene locally, and worldwide.
Dan Zorn, Engineer
209 West Lake Street