If you want an accurate portrait of Chicago’s modern gang culture, look no further than its "drill music" scene. YouTube is littered with hundreds, if not thousands, of videos with young men and women rapping about violence, representing their sets, smoking high-grade weed, and acquiring “foreign” or imported designer clothing and cars. Drill was primarily a local phenomenon until Chief Keef, then a 16-year-old man-child with an extensive rap sheet including charges of aggravated assault with a firearm on a police officer, marauded onto the national scene with his 2012 drill anthem “I Don’t Like.” The song was remixed by Kanye West and Keef eventually signed a three album deal that could pay more than six million dollars over three years with Interscope Records.
After Keef’s success, drill rappers began appearing out of nowhere, often times in low budget productions throwing up gang signs and flashing pistols. For the most part these videos continued to fly under the radar until the September 2012 murder of aspiring rapper Joseph Coleman AKA Lil' Jojo, an 18-year-old member of a Gangster Disciple subset known as Brick Squad, rivals to Chief Keef and his OTF clique of Black Disciples. In the homemade video for his song “300K”, Lil Jojo raps about killing members of the Black Disciples including Def Jam rapper and Keef associate Lil' Durk, whom he mentions by name while he and his affiliates flash gang signs and brazenly point a multitude of weapons at the camera.
Jojo’s murder subsequently created an outpouring of media attention. Leaders from across the city condemned the incident and drill music was thrust into the national spotlight. Established rappers from Chicago such as Lupe Fiasco and Rhymefest went on record speaking against the drill movement. However, drill began to receive praise from many different music publications, ranging from hip-hop publications like XXL to hipster alternative outlets such as Pitchfork and The Fader. Kanye West also continues to show his support, recently stating that some of his most recent recordings have been heavily influence by drill.
As the drill phenomenon is so intertwined with the violence that has catapulted the city back into the national spotlight, it was only right to get three of the genre's biggest names to speak on the music's impact in and outside the city. Here, we catch up with King L (formerly King Louie), fresh off the only rap appearance on West’s latest offering Yeezus, Katie Got Bandz, the first lady of drill whose name has graced Rolling Stone and Billboard, and Azae Productions, arguably the most prolific video director to emerge from the scene.
King L and Katie Got Bandz
EBONY: What is Drill music and what does it represent?
King L: Drill music is like the new Chicago. Drill originally wasn’t music. It was a term for going on hits. We started the term, really my guy Pac R.I.P.[did]. That’s who started the term drill.
EBONY: What is a hit?
KL: It’s really like going to kill some people or shoot at them, but drill can also mean anything. You and your guys got a bunch of girls and you’re about to turn up with them, we call it a drill. So when you say drill music, it was never music.
EBONY: So a hitter or a driller is a person who engages in that behavior?
KL: Hitters and drillers are shooters but that’s not all. If we got to an altercation and I beat you’re a--, that’s a drill.
EBONY: Katie, why would a woman want to be with a hitter or a driller?
Katie Got Bandz: Basically, you need someone to protect you all around.
EBONY: The drill scene has an unusual number of women rapping about shooting and violence. Does this reflect the reality for females on the streets of Chicago?
KGB: I wouldn’t say that. I can’t speak for no other females in Chicago but for me everything I talk about I’ve experienced it or I’ve seen it every day. I used to be out here wild, playing with guns but I’ve slowed down on that because I have stuff to live for.
EBONY: Does drill music perpetuate the cycle of violence that plagues the inner city of Chicago?
KGB: No, because before drill music people already had their beef and wars going on. It’s just everybody is rapping now, so people think if they make a dis’ record, they’ll get noticed fast and they’re putting it on beats instead of leaving it in the streets. Rapping don’t have nothing to do with what’s going on in Chicago. This has been going on in Chicago before Chicago got noticed.
EBONY: Due to your status and popularity, do you see yourself as one the leading voices of your community?
KL: Si senor, I do. They call me "the god." King Louie the God. For real, no BS or facades, they call me King Louie the God.