What's The (BK) Drill With That? Making Sense Of What's Going On...
Welcome to Backseat Freestyle. This is my weekly hip-hop newsletter I send out every Friday focusing on one big thing that happened over the past seven days. I also include links to what I’ve been listening to, reading and watching. You can check out the archives, here, and read more about me, here. If you’re already a B.F. subscriber, thank you for your continued support. Please share this newsletter with your circle so that they can enjoy it, too. If you’re arriving to this issue by way of a forward, LinkedIn or social media, please subscribe below. With that said, let’s get into it….
Editor’s Note: I’m still working on the sequel to the 2021 predictions post. A lot of phone calls, texts and emails being made. But I'm sticking with it because I like reading where people think the game is going.
This is what’s driving hip-hop this week….
THE BROOKLYN DRILL SCENE has been spiking on my timeline recently and now on my newsfeed as there's been shootings (Nas Blixky) and the unfortunate deaths of young men (Chii Wvttz and TDott Woo). The loss of life is always a serious matter and deserves a ton of discussion. But what I'm seeing is an overemphasis being put on the back of rappers or their music. While there's a vitality in the material that helps grease the wheels of its popularity and may frame the activity behind the violence in a way that young folks find thrilling. The reality is, it's disingenuous to pin the root of the cause on the symptoms like politicians or critics are trying to do. And it's equally absurd to dismiss the music as merely as garbage. There's a real issue at hand and if adults want to address it like they claim they do, it has to be done with a serious look at the foundation.
Respect my mind or die from lead shower.
IT'S NOT JUST RAPPERS like Latto or Fivio Foreign using familiar melodies from the past to put together their latest tunes. Critics have been reaching into their bag of greatest hits to rehash takes on hip-hop that have made for recent headlines and social media posts. It’s 2022 but by the looks of things it feels like 1992 again. Fitting that Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg are headlining the Super Bowl halftime show. (More on that in a minute.)
How did we get here?
Brooklyn Drill is the marquee, but the pandemic, lax regulations and politicians are the real headliners.
Ever since March 2020 when the WHO declared a pandemic, New York has been front and center during this trying time. Covid decimated the Big Apple and for long durations the city was the number one global hotspot. That peak time may have passed, but New York has since seen an alarming rise in crime that became the topic du jour during last year’s mayoral race. Whether it was violence happening on Subway platforms or attacks against elderly Asians residents or gun-related incidents, the Daily News and the Post were splashing the happenings across their pages in the largest font possible.
But one thing it’s not is the sole fault of rap music.
Some of this can be explained by the cratering economy across the five boroughs. With the vitality of the city crested and tourism slowed, we’ve seen many mainstays shuttered and dollars remain in pockets or banks instead of flooding throughout New York as paychecks. And as Freeway once put it: “If a sneak start leaning and the heat stop working/ Then my heat start working', I'ma rob me a person….”
Some of this can be explained by a lack of resources for social services. Anyone outside can tell you about the increase in homelessness that occurred during the DeBlasio administration’s time in charge. Developers were given amusement park-like passes to take over the city and affordable housing became more abstract in concept than dutiful as policy. And that’s before we get into mental health challenges.
Some of this is inexplicable. Simply bigoted or ignorant.
But one thing it’s not is the sole fault of rap music. Even if it’s Brooklyn Drill.
Last year, I appeared on “The What?! Hip Hop, Questions, Legends and Lists” podcast, hosted by Mouse Jones and Nyla Simone. My particular episode was on the 10-year anniversary of the Watch The Throne album. Before my guest spot, I did a listening binge on their previous episodes and there was one on Brooklyn Drill that stood out to me. Mouse made an emphatic push in the episode to break down the sub-genre. Before I recorded with them, he and I chatted in the greenroom about the episode. We remarked on how so often people refer to the drum sound and simply list that as the undergirding of the movement.
New York’s new mayor called drill, "a contributor to gun violence in New York City.”
Drill does have a certain sound, but also, the tenets are increasingly local. There’s an almost zealous nature to address one’s opps (opposition), by name, by association and by past and future encounters. Artists taunt, threaten and describe things with the detail of a newspaper account. Being called out directly or in coded language that an entire neighborhood understands doesn’t result in idle chatter. Answer and response records are equally important to the foundation of Drill. Add isn social media activity before, during and after. It’s a combustible combination that we’ve seen lead to deaths in Chicago. This month in New York it’s been particularly fraught. Chii Wvttz was shot and killed. Tdott Woo was shot and killed. And Nas Blixky was shot and afterward he reportedly declared he’d be changing his name and subject matter.
Predictably, New York’s new mayor, Eric Adams, declared he wanted to meet with rappers “to address drill rap music, a contributor to gun violence in New York City.” (Even as this clashed with the belief of Adam’s own deputy chief of police.) And the media messaged this out while conveniently ignoring the causes while pointing to the symptoms.
It’s easier to get a gun now (whether legally or illegally) than it’s ever been thanks to lax laws in real life or regulation online. Social services are underfunded meanwhile police budgets are ballooning to the point of militarizing patrolmen. Politicians, including the mayor and the police union head, are not in the results business as much as they are in the blame business.
Those are all root causes.
Rap songs are the symptoms, observations about the experiences young people are facing in real life. The rappers aren’t without their faults; there’s clearly a line to be drawn between what you see and what you do. But blowing my nose doesn’t mean I still don’t have a cold.
I won’t claim Brooklyn Drill is going through growing pains and attempt to sweep this under the rug.
And then Hot 97 has also gotten in on the conversation, but their talent (Ebro, in particular) doesn’t quite know how to address what’s going on, it seems. DJ Drewski vowed to no longer play dis songs by drill rappers, a formidable act by someone who has long pioneered the wave of new New York rappers. He later had to clarify he wouldn’t stop playing Brooklyn Drill full stop. That’s an almost impossibly small needle to thread, although the sentiment is commendable. Ebro amplified Drewski on Instagram, but also seemed to challenge Funk Flex and Hot’s music director, TT Torrez, over what they were going to do. And later, on the morning show, he dismissively waved off Drill music as trash and singularly focused on Takashi 6ix9ine. Then afterward posted, “instead of telling youth what to talk about in their music, change their reality and you’ll change their content.” He’s not wrong, but he took the scenic route to get there.
Thirty years ago, there was a generational divide as gangster rap rose in popularity and Dr. Dre and Snoop became full-fledged superstars. Their critics lashed out against their content and targeted the rappers for contributing to violence. Gangsta rap became an easy enemy to culture war arsonists who were looking to start fires rather than seeking to have cooler heads prevail. These days, of course, hip-hop spans several generations actively at once. The house is larger and there’s more people inside at odds not just outsiders looking to take pot shots or make remarks. That’s another way of saying we’ve not only seen this before, but some of the ones we’ve seen this from have survived and they’ll be entertaining the very same critics who’ll be singing along songs that are laced with gangster references.
I won’t claim Brooklyn Drill is going through growing pains and attempt to sweep this under the rug. Again, the loss of life is serious business and there has to be serious ways to talk about it. New York radio may pull the plug on records, but there’s still distribution by way of social, Souncloud and Youtube. To say the music is the problem is disingenuous. There’s problems going on in the culture that have to be addressed. The young men will grow up, but I hope all of them make it to an older age and not just a handful. For that, we’re going to have to press pause and really listen.
Music, news, reads, podcasts and videos that I’m checking for.
Best news of the week: Snoop Dogg buys the Death Row Records label (not catalog) and the announcement comes ahead of his Super Bowl appearance this Sunday and with a new album, titled B.O.D.R. (Bacc On Death Row). *Chef’s kiss* (He sounds great on the new LP; Snoop hasn’t had this much punch in his bars in years.) [Info] [Listen]
Dr. Dre has new music available too; his “GTA” in-game project, The Contract, is now on all DSPs as a collection of singles, including “Gospel” with Eminem. [Listen]
If you gotta pick one album to listen to this weekend, it’s 2 Chainz’s Dope Don’t Sell Itself. There’s so many good records on this and equally ill music vids. I don’t know if it’s because he didn’t do a bunch of features to make it 2 Chainz SZN, but folks need to be talking about this project a lot more. [Listen]
Who nose the best way to lose weight but Pusha T? The VA wordsmith returns with “Diet Coke,” a menacing mix of coke rap fueled by 88 Keys and Ye. [Listen]
It’s interesting listening to Juice WRLD’s “Cigarettes,” because while it’s clearly good (like really good), he also sounds so much like the current crop of crooning rappers that it’s a hard hit to realize his influence has caught up to him and he’s not around to evolve anymore. [Listen]
Fivio Foreign taps Ye and Alica Keys and some Diplomats flavor for “City of Gods” where he crowns himself King now that Pop Smoke is gone in the physical. [Listen]
Conway The Machine keeps it in the family on “John Woo Flick,” with Westside Gunn and Benny The Butcher, on this white knuckle rumble that might mean winter is gonna be around longer. Eff a groundhog. [Listen]
Nicki Minaj and Lil Baby go B2B two weeks in a row with a pair of collabs in “Do We Have A Problem?” and “Bussin.” The former is filled with dramatic strings, sharp snares and a fully charged Nicki; Baby is forceful in a supportive role. The latter is a quick hitting thumper that has some pulsating production and a lot of electricity in Mrs. Petty’s delivery. [Listen] [Listen] Related: You can hear both songs in the mini movie video Nicki dropped featuring Power’s Joseph Sikora. [Watch]
Put one (or more) in the air for Stoner’s Night, the new collabo project from Juicy J and Wiz Khalifa. We don't talk about Juicy's production prowess enough. And lyrically, he's economical and efficient, allowing songs to breath and laying down a foundation for Wiz to float without having to carry tracks. [Listen]
The Brooklyn Museum is set to honor Virgil Abloh's legacy with a forthcoming exhibit. [Info]
“She’s (Finally) the Boss: Women Are Rising to the Top of Major-Label A&R Departments.” [Read]
Gunna’s leveled up this young year and New York mag puts the spotlight on his rise in a new 🅿️rofile. [Read]
This one is behind a paywall, but if you have a Billboard subscription this is the one: an NFT operation (HitPiece) had their biz plan blow up in their face. Notable because MC Serch was a co-founder. There was some good Twitter fodder on it too. [Read]
My brothers Coodie & Chike are doing the rounds for their “Jean-yuhs” docuseries that arrives Feb. 16 on Netflix. I’ve had a lot of talks with them over the years on the topic and they’re thoughtful and nuanced in conversation. Here’s three quality pieces from GQ, the New York Times and RollingStone’s pod. [Read] [Read] [Listen]
Another good doc to peep, “Phat Tuesdays: The Era of Hip-Hop Comedy,” is a three-part series on Amazon Prime about the famed Guy Torry-fronted showcase. The LA Times recently caught up with some comedians to reminisce about the weekly. [Read]
Paul Cantor speaks to Cabbages about his Mac Miller book. [Read]
Yo Gotti has been busy lately, with a new album, CM10: Free Game, a new signee in Mozzy and it was only right he spoke about everything on the Million Dollarz Worth Of Game pod. [Listen] [Info] [Listen]
This is a good pod episode, too: Pall Wall connects with Fuzzy and Quincy Harris (I’ma forever call him Q Deezy) for their FAQ show. [Listen]
Call me crazy, but Coi Leray taps into a feeling among/with her fans in a way that reminds me of Jeezy and his Inspiration/Thug Motivation days. Not the same, of course, but some DNA resemblance. Check out her latest visual, “Anxiety,” and let me know if you think so, too. [Watch]
Welp, it’s Valentine’s Day weekend (in addition to Super Bowl weekend) and Future finds a way to toxify the day with his latest, “Worse Day,” complete with Kevin Samuels in the video cameo. Feels like he needs fully poke fun at himself or be real with hit. This record and vid are in no-man’s land, me thinks. [Watch]
YG recruits J. Cole and Moneybagg Yo for Money Heist vibes in “Scared Money,” which is my favorite video by far in this young year. [Watch]
This $not record and video for “Doja” give me “Magnolia” vibes, from the bottom heavy 808 to the camera movements and cuts to New York backdrop to the A$AP Rocky of it all. But it goes. Have a look. [Watch]
Saba’s Few Good Things gets a companion short film of the same name to pair with the LP, directed by my young brother, C.T. Robert. Both the album and the short are intimate sets that bear the markings of their influences on them. Have a go at ‘em. [Watch] [Listen]
Backseat Freestyle is written and produced by me, Jayson Rodriguez, for Smarty Art Media. If you have any comments, feedback or questions, feel free to email me: [email protected]. If you would like to discuss sponsoring an issue of the newsletter, contact: holler@ smartyartllc.com. And follow me elsewhere:
(I recently added a couple of new links below because I might experiment with promoting Backseat Freestyle on TikTok or Twitch, etc.)
Podcast: coming soon
Disclosure: I’m employed by Spotify and given that I frequently include public news and streaming numbers from Spotify in the newsletter, I want to note that the views and opinions reflected in Backseat Freestyle are solely my own. Also, as the showrunner of Nas’ podcast, The Bridge, I work closely with him, however, any inclusion of his music is without influence.