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.
EBONY: If you have that platform and the attention an entire community, why do you continue to rap about gun violence and gang life?
KL: That’s like asking why people make movies about being getting killed. It’s entertainment. When the kids in the environment see me, they see me in a nice vehicle, nice clothes and my daughter is taken care of and all that is off music, off being successful. It’s like actors, they don’t get mad at actors for playing gangster roles all of the time. Not saying I’m acting or the stuff I’m talking about is not real, but it’s like you don’t do that to actors.
KGB: It’s what they want to hear.
EBONY: What is your response to people who say artists are being selfish and selling out their community by making music that encourages Black-on-Black violence?
KL: They make movies. Did you see Django [Unchained]? They don’t say movies influence shoot-ups. They say ‘oh, he did some great acting’ and they get Oscars.
KGB: People are going do what they want to do, whether you make a song or not. If they’re into it, they’re gonna kill each or hurt each other.
EBONY: Does drill music, speaking strictly about the lyrics and the message, ever have a chance to develop a more positive community voice?
KL: If you listen to all my music, it’s not all gangster stuff. I got a new song called "Jeep Music" and it sounds quite groovy if you ask me (laughs). Go download the mixtape Jeep Music, check me and (local R&B singer) Leek out. That’s drill music. I’m the one who put on for drill, for everyone who started saying drill music. They can’t tell me what drill music is because I’m the one that has everyone saying it. After Pac, I put on for it and now it’s on Wikipedia.
EBONY: With all the money, designer cars, and clothes he flashes it’s easy to forget that Chief Keef isn’t even legally an adult yet, and with teenagers like Lil' Bibby rapping “I’m trappin, f**k that school s**t” . What impact does this have on impressionable kids considering age-wise they’re actually many of these artists’ peers?
KGB: (raises voice) Why are you askin' us about Keef in our interview?
EBONY: It’s not just about Keef but about a concept, about influences.
KGB: I just graduated from high school in 2011. I was listening to the same kind of music, it was just with a different generation [of artists]. You’re gonna go to school and do what you want to do, whether it’s the music or movies or whatever.
KL: (sighs) If people was getting rich for jumping off of buildings, would you go jump off of a building? Think about it. People are getting rich for this. Katie was right. People are stupid. If you always want to point your finger, you’re stupid.
KGB: People are gonna do what they want to do regardless, whether they listen to Keef, Lil Bibby or whoever. If you wanna go to school and make something out of yourself, you’re gonna do it. Can’t no song impact your life.
EBONY: Rappers talk a lot about their enemies and haters, but without the support of their fans they would not have careers. Have you created or do you support any projects that can uplift people from the communities in Chicago that give you your biggest support?
KL: I do church stuff. They really see me. I’m like god, man. I hit the bucket boys [street performers] with 50’s and 100’s. The unfortunate and homeless people, I ride down on them and give them my shoes. Throughout the whole community, they know me.
KGB: I’m starting the Kiara Johnson Foundation. I’m giving scholarships for kids who graduated [who are] going away to college and I’m giving away book vouchers for ones going to community college and [also] school supplies. I am human. Outside of music, I do have feelings for other people too. I used to be in the Bud Billiken [Back to School] Parade every year. I danced all the way up until I was 17 or 18. I donate to the dance group I used to dance with and I go back and do community service at neighborhood centers and schools too.
EBONY: Any final thoughts on the issue?
KL: Be productive in life. Stay in school, kids and listen to your parents, it’ll take you a long way.
Zae of AZae Productions
EBONY: How did the drill video movement begin?
Zae: The first artist I worked with that was part of the drill movement was King Louie. I shot his video first, then I picked up and started working with other artists. I started talking to (Chief) Keef through Facebook. He saw my videos and wanted to work. I went to grammar school with (Lil) Durk and once I started doin videos with them and it took off from there. We just shot videos wherever we were at. It wasn’t a theme or nothin like that.
EBONY: In certain drill videos, we see young people showing and playing with guns. What is your honest opinion of this type of behavior?
Zae: Before everyone got record deals, that was just what everybody used to do. But now we’ve cooled out on all of that. You probably won’t see that in any of the recent videos.
EBONY: Do you think that Lil' Jojo's "300K" video played a significant role in his death?
Zae: I’ve seen the video but I really don’t know what happened in-depth. It could have played a role but I don’t know what happened before that video, so I can’t say too much about it.
EBONY: Do you believe that drill videos make existing beefs between different gangs worse?
Zae: I wouldn’t say that. I wouldn’t say shoot a video for this because they’re (rival gangs) going to get mad if you put a song out for fans to watch. It’s just visuals for Worldstar and stuff like that to further their fan base.
EBONY: Would you like to see young Chicago artists moving away from the drill sound and more toward art that focuses on solutions that help the 'hood?
Zae: People rap about what they know about. If you grew up in the 'hood, you can’t rap about the suburbs. So it’s really hard to say ‘rap about this’ if you don’t know nothing about it.
EBONY: Do you think these artists have the potential to change their voice and have a more positive influence on youngsters coming up?
Zae: Yeah. A lot of young kids look up to the rappers these days. They often say in their songs to do one thing but they’ll have an interview telling you its entertainment. It’s just music and they’re rapping about what the people love to hear, but not necessarily telling you to go out and do it.
EBONY: Do you feel there are any misconceptions about drill videos?
Zae: If you were looking at the videos, you would think "Oh, it was just the worst time," but it’s really not like that. We really just be chillin’. We shoot videos in the streets, at the park or whatever. I shot a video with Keef—"Macaroni Time"—and it was in his back yard. We’re just doin what we do in our everyday lives and putting it to a video. We don’t have to necessarily get the big sets, it’s just stuff we do on an everyday basis put into a video.