In the past years, the Nigerian music industry has gone through a considerable amount of transformation, growing to become one of Africa’s leading exporters of entertainment and culture. With the many subgenres popping off under the Afrobeats genre, Nigerian artists have managed to harness their music abilities and translate vivid storytelling in their lyrics. One of such subgenres currently making waves in the Nigerian music scene is “drill rap”.
Also known as Afrodrill and +234 drill, the subgenre is built on the framework of Chicago’s early 2010’s drill sound which serves as the blueprint for what is called drill music today. Although its origins can be traced to the slums of southside Chicago, it was on the rough streets of Brixton that drill music assumed its current form, whetted by rap groups like 86 and 7 (pronounced six, seven).
Once the drill assumed a solid structure, it began to travel, making its way out of the UK and into Africa. In Ghana, Asaaka boys – a Ghanian drill collective – quickly mastered the sound, subsequently adopting it by rapping in Akan, Twi, local Ghanian pidgin, and a sprinkle of English about their dreams of a better life. Kenya’s Buruklyn Boyz are also carrying the drill torch in East Africa, pulling off an infectious delivery of the sound in their breakout song Nairobi.
In mid-2020, I See I Saw – Styles‘s hit track went viral, opening the Nigerian audience to a different type of sound which was slowly gaining popularity in underground music spheres. This shift created space for an audience ready for a new sound to properly experience the blend of drill rap with Nigeria’s trademark Afrobeats genre. Styles’ hit song was instrumental in uncovering the bubbling drill rap scene in Nigeria and particularly, in the capital city of Abuja. Speaking to Culture Custodian, rapper Zilla Oaks explained that drill music in the capital city really took off in 2020 – “During the lockdown, that’s really when drill popped off because so many people were paying attention to drill in the UK and soon enough they began dropping their own drill songs.”
Currently, there is a growing movement formed around the subgenre in Abuja, Nigeria with rappers like Tomi Obanure, Eeskay, Odumodu Blvck, Zilla Oaks, and Reeplay at the helm of affairs. The typically quiet city has received drill rap well, with fans singing lyrics word for word at shows. “Drill is something that gets people really hyped and pumped,” rapper Eeskay explains. In 2020, he released Agbalagba, with fellow drill artist Odumodu Blvck and it quickly became the soundtrack of the streets. “Abuja is a really quiet place and drill has an uptempo to it, exactly what the people need,” Eeskay declares.
Like most rappers, Abj drillers consider drill rap a reflective tool, as Eeskay explains, “I rap about what I’ve seen, what I’ve been through and I always like to make people conscious of what’s going on around them, on the streets we call it OT.” The artists love to speak about the socio economic issues that plague their communities like police brutality, corruption and even the ruggedness of the streets. “People like to think drill is violent, but the violence we rap about, its things we’ve seen, the crime we talk about, we’ve experienced it as well,” Zilla Oaks says.
As expected, the subgenre has experienced some pushback because as Zilla puts it; “Nobody takes rap seriously in Nigeria”. However, this does not deter capital city drillers who continue to make the kind of music that represents their struggle. “I’ve come to understand that Nigerians may never completely accept anything that isn’t mainstream Afrobeats,” says Eeskay. “But for us here in Abuja, it’s more than just music, it’s our heritage and I’ve made peace with the fact that others may never put it first, maybe second, but never first.”