In the last few years, the thrumming sound of something huge and dark has been sending ripples through the gutters of Chicago's avenues. Drill music, the city's own brand of trap, captures the daily horror of life on the streets of America's murder capital with booming kicks, wing-mirror-rattling bass and the relentless skittering hi-hats that have become synonymous with the hustle of modern rap.
For many in America and across the global hip hop community, the first artist to bring drill performance was Chief Keef, whose success came inextricably cuffed to controversy from the beginning. Criticised for promoting and perpetuating the violent street culture he grew up within, Keef nonetheless put the scene on the map and his breakthrough hit "I Don't Like" remains the definitive drill track, garnering a controversial G.O.O.D. Music remix and now approaching ten million views on YouTube. Not bad for a video shot on a digital camcorder in Keef's apartment. Unlike much street focused hip-hop that has come before it, drill's tendency is not to exhibit aggression and rage, or to dwell on the tragedy of gang violence, rather, it leans towards cold statements of fact and a nihilistic revelling in the doomed lifestyle many of its artists endure. Drill videos are full of #RIP messages in graffiti tags and on t-shirts, and in March 2014, a month where Chicago has already seen 14 fatal shootings, rising starts RondoNumbaNine and Cdai were charged with murder.
Where Chief Keef defines this nihilistic attitude with his own brand of slurred ignorance, the artist tipped to supersede him as the scene's biggest export seems powerfully aware of the horror his city is wrapped in. Lil Herb's output seems to increasingly aspire to something outside, something more, something greater. In this sense Herb is transcending Drill and becoming the first artist to reach "rapper" status in the larger sense, destined for collaborations with big name producers and performers. While he has retained the Drill influence in both his production choices and lyrical delivery, he has made departures from it in some significant ways. His most recent mixtape "Welcome To Fazoland", released in February 2014 after much anticipation, marks a major leap in Herb's journey from local star to national contender. He has refined his style; the development from street-corner spitter to fully-fledged performer is evidenced by his "4 Minutes of Hell" freestyles. In his first mixed tape, released in late 2012, Herb delivers his bars in a deliberate, bassy monotone. In his second, he alternates a sullen delivery with rapid-fire bursts that show off his ability to flex his flow muscles and dial the pace up and down. By Part 3, which appears on "Welcome To Fazoland", Herb's opening bars; "My hunger's equal to my struggle, I came from nothin' / Grinded and I made it to somethin' / The age of a youngun, started bangin' and hustlin' / Exchanging the customers to make it in this dangerous jungle" set a more narrative pace, which he attacks the track with a growl in his throat that imbues his flow with a real emotional intensity, marking the departure from the hollowed-eyed, cold hearted delivery with which Drill artists are associated with. This isn't the only place on the tape Herb eschews from the traditional. For one thing the production is diverse and even has a few moments where it crosses into soulful territory to underpin Herb's tribute to his city, his mother and ones he has lost. The rawness, directness and honesty of the Drill scene is retained in Herb's newest offering, but the subject matter is broadened and the palette given a few more drops of fresh colour.
1st April 2014 By MIKE PASCOE
LIL HERB - FAZOLAND
That being said, there are some certified bangers on this mixtape. "Koolin" being a vehicle for Herb to reveal his rap skills, and it's far from a wasted opportunity, while "On The Corner" is a guaranteed soundtrack. Even these more predictable tracks, though, showcase a polished and perfected version of the Drill sound that breaks new ground and hints at a great future for both the artist and the scene. Keep your ears to the concrete and you'll hear that thrumming sound getting closer. Herb's coming for you, and he's bringing Chiraq with him.
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