It took about 10 years, but drill music has successfully surpassed regional popularity in Chicago.
The sub-genre, coded by the staticky elements of trap production and detailed by the ordeals of catching bodies, was injected into rap years ago by artists like Chief Keef, G Herbo and Lil Bibby. In the middle, drill found a home in the U.K. with artists like Loski and Headie One. And recently, due to the emergence of Brooklynites and drill leaders Pop Smoke and Fivio Foreign, the sound has again become a staple. But it’s never been as mainstream as it is now. Due to its intriguing success, artists all over the country want a little slice of the pie.
Flowing on a drill beat can be a challenge for anyone who’s not used to doing it. Sometimes, the verses come out near perfect, with an artist successfully timing their bars to fit seamlessly into the pockets of the beat. And sometimes, things sound a little shaky and underwhelming for various other reasons. So today, from good to greatest, XXL takes a look at the best flows by non-drill rappers and explains their rating.
Here’s how the ratings are broken down: sticking to XXL's signature system of rating albums, rappers’ flows are based on sizes. Small (S) and medium (M) ratings means the verse is pretty substandard or average, respectively. A large (L) rating means that the verse navigates a middle ground of being good, but needing some improvement. An extra large (XL) is in the category of nearly perfect, and an extra extra large (XXL) rating means that the verse is top-notch heat.
Without further ado, check out our Look Into the Best Flows From Rappers Who Usually Don't Do Drill Music below.
State of Emergency, Lil Tjay’s mid-quarantine project, was completely catered to his hometown New York City earlier this year. So, it’s only right that he tagged in Jay Critch for a record. Linking on the Rilbeats and BenzMuzik-produced “City on My Back,” the rappers take a step out of their normal comfort zones and ride the drill wave for three-and-a-half minutes. Aside from the refreshing switch-up, it sounds like Critch surfs on his verse with a boogie board rather than a surfboard. It’s not bad, per say. But it’s not as definitively striking as it needed to be for this song to hit. If he would’ve attacked the barrel of the beat standing up rather than laying down in terms of assertiveness, he would’ve come out of the tidal a lot smoother.
Bronx rapper DreamDoll employed 2020 XXL Freshman and drill leader Fivio Foreign for her song “Ah Ah Ah” in July. When it comes to the tempo of her flow, she elects a lagging approach. Her casualness does provide swag, but at the same time, it makes the chorus and verses blend together, burying the song structure. Now, this is drill we’re talking about, where the purpose isn’t to be as lyrical and quick-paced, but the wound she scalped into the beat would have benefited from adding some spice to really make her verse sting, as she teased with the way she raps, “Don't tell me you proud of me/You gotta Prada me/You better spend that shit,” at the end of the first verse. She seems as if she was holding back flow and content-wise on a sub-genre that thrives from letting it all go.
A Boogie Wit Da HoodieRating: M
One thing about A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, he’s going to live and die by the melodies. Linking up with Pop Smoke, whom Boogie claims was the co-king of New York City, the Bronx-bred spitter starts off with some serious potential on “Foreigner,” a track featured on Pop's Meet the Woo 2 mixtape, which arrived earlier this year. “Hoodie on it get scary/Bloody mary, bloody mary,” A Boogie delivers in his sing-song cadence—perfect lingo for drilling. However, as the song proceeds, his verse seems incomplete as his flow keeps an unhurried pace that’s only perfected by few. Toward the end, A Boogie picks things up, notably, but leaves his verse off on an abrupt cliff-hanger, right when things get spicy. If you’re a fan of A Boogie's music and know his catalog, you were likely expecting more from him.
Lil Baby hasn’t missed all year. It’s as if right before he hops in the booth, he puts on the famous white and blue Nike Blazers from the 2002 film Like Mike. Well, at the end of the movie, character Calvin Cambridge’s special shoes rip and he’s forced to rock a pair of regulars. He still plays well, but nowhere near his potential. Why is this story being told here? Because that’s the case with Lil Baby on the remix to Fivio Foreign’s 2019 banger “Big Drip.” Baby’s voice will rope your attention into what he has to say, but his shriek-level pitch is more captivating than his actual verse. In what becomes a rare mishap for the current MVP of rap, Lil Baby’s flow on “Big Drip” didn’t do the song nor Atlanta rapper justice, especially alongside Fivio, who has basically mastered these drill beats.
Young M.A will forever have a debonair tone in her music. She calmly treads over beats but doesn’t let tranquility distract you from the fact that she’s a big stepper—the rapper doesn’t speak unless she’s really popping her mess. This is exemplified in her feature on Fivio Foreign’s “Move Like a Boss.” Her opening lines, “I move like a boss/I'm never takin' a loss/I got that splash, sauce/I'm in that horse, a Porsche of course,” are delivered with a flow that’s on the money. Also, her signature deep voice keeps her delayed approach intriguing. Yet, when you start to bob your head in satisfaction, her verse ends. It sounds like she pulled the plug way too early on this one. But she’s from New York where drill is it right now. So, this likely won’t be the last time she joins forces with a drill music star.
Travis Scott was one of the first people to help drill break the mainstream seam. In 2019, he enlisted Pop Smoke for his song “Gatti,” off the label compilation Jackboys. Trav helped make this song an absolute hit upon its release. Pop steals the show, as he should, but La Flame holds his own, trimming his mechanical-sounding bars into pockets where the beat pauses. His flow is milky, finessing bars like, “It cost me three for the keys/Not the work but the V/She let it twirl to the beat/I send the work, bet it reach.” But on the latter half of his verse, it unsuccessfully turns into something off Travis' Astroworld album with his tone distortion and approach. If he wouldn’t have switched up his delivery, his rating would’ve surely leveled up.
Swae Lee’s features, with his appearances on everyone’s albums, is now comparable to lemon pepper flakes on a plain chicken wing. They aren’t fully necessary, but sure do have the ability to take things to the next level. On Pop Smoke’s “Creature,” Swae had the opportunity to turn in a verse that’s light-hearted in its effort. His style has never been complex, so if you’re OK with that, you’ll be fine with this track. But similar to the other artists that fit in this S through M rating range, it seems like he missed an opportunity to go crazy, opting for an elementary-built flow that would work better on anything other than a grungy drill beat.
We all remember when Nicki Minaj collaborated with G Herbo on the track “Chiraq” back in 2014. And straight up put the beat in a body bag. On the remix for Pop Smoke’s hit “Welcome to the Party,” Nicki revisits the morgue and attacks a drill beat once again with choppy, aggressive animation. Her signature voice distortion takes you back to her early Barbie days, causing fans to choose between whether they want to listen to what she’s saying or how she’s saying it. On both sides of the spectrum, a Barbz's attention will be in a chokehold. But realistically speaking, Nicki needed the whole three minutes on this beat rather than 30 seconds to really do it justice.
There’s no rapper who thrives from a punchy flow more than French Montana. And that design works flawlessly with drill beats. With the sub-genre reaching tsunami-type heights in his city right now, it was only a matter of time before the Bronx rapper hopped on one of those songs. Recording his own drill track instead of doing a feature, French dropped “That’s A Fact” in April of this year. The song is a hit, solely because his key flow is the plug to a JB Made It-laced socket. On the song, French raps like he’s giving directions on a Bop It! “Hol' up, slide/Pull up, drive/Whole point is a vibe,” he spits. The catchiness that flow provides is contagious, but French abandons it prematurely. Heard in the second verse, his method becomes more delayed, which is cool, but you can’t help thinking that he didn’t need to fix what wasn’t already broken.
It’s true, Gunna can really rap on any beat. Based on the fact that drill has found a home in the Midwest (Chicago), overseas (U.K.) and North (New York City), it’s equally shocking and impressive that an Atlanta artist is this good at doing the sub-genre justice. Tapping in for the remix of Pop Smoke’s “Dior,” released earlier this year, Gunna swims over the 808Melo-laced beat as he would on a Drip or Drown project. Gunna leaves the red dot talk to Pop, and uses his own verse to describe the layers of his closet, per usual. With each loop of the bass, his energy becomes even more infectious, allowing him to chop into the song like a piranha. Gunna’s whole aesthetic is based on swimming. And his flow on “Dior” matches it perfectly.
Calboy made sure to remind his fans and the naysayers that Chicago artists can make drill music in their sleep. Tagging in “Big Drip” rapper Fivio Foreign, Calboy’s flow on his own song "Rounds" can best be described by comparing him to Sonic The Hedgehog collecting coins. No matter how many twists and turns the JD On Tha Track-laced beat takes, the 21-year-old rapper soars over the surface, seemingly collecting more coins and momentum with each following bar. His silky flow is the perfect balance to his fellow 2020 XXL Freshman Fivio’s sticky approach. One thing we have to note is that Calboy grew up witnessing the rise of drill heads Chief Keef and G Herbo. He clearly studied their recipe, and as heard on this record, came up with Good Burger-type sauce of his own later down the line.
The fact that Rowdy Rebel ranks so high on this level from a phoned-in verse should tell you everything you need to know. Being behind bars, his eagerness to rap can be peeped from the jump. On Pop Smoke’s first posthumous single “Make It Rain,” released this year, Rowdy wastes no time, hammering his flow in like an auger to the soil. Though the verse is unclear at moments, hearing his pulse on the beat is entrancing. With himself and his rider Bobby Shmurda rumored to come home at any time, Rowdy’s verse speaks to the idea that drill may be the way to go for them to see some high-level success in the future. Rowdy could rank up as a sergeant of this movement, easily decided by how effortless he sounds on this one. Even in its sample size, his flow is that effective.
Harlem rapper Melii snapped, no television show. But similar to the Oxygen hit TV series, she commits a serious crime when it comes to what she does on this NAVI-produced beat. Alongside Smoove'L, her latest single, “BDE,” flaunts her Harlem roots, which sound both equally suave and threatening. Off the rip, she punches into the beat with brass knuckles. Her verse features a combination of flows that make it seem like she typed a cheat code into the recording software. Dropping in some Spanish and keeping her rhythm later on, she pays homage to her Latin heritage, which is hardly ever heard when it comes to drill music. So, she gets a nod for that. With a delicate demeanor on the outside, fans might be surprised to see how she unleashes once the song begins. Once she starts flowing, Melii's commitment to putting this beat face down on the mat is executed.
If you haven’t peeped already, drill beats recall the bando version of Quavo that was heard on tapes like No Label II. On songs like “Shake The Room” with Pop Smoke, he leans back on his incisive flow that’s paired with a “mama” rather than a sedating hum. When he’s on that type of time, there’s no denying how good Quavo really is at his craft. Rapping lyrics like, “Baby shakin' in the waist/Hit the flashlight to see her face/And she lookin' like a snack/Birkin bag on the way,” Quavo really puts the 808Melo-produced beat in a cradle, rushing his verse into the end zone. His comfortable flow works as a stiff arm to the challenges of unfamiliar territory he was stepping into with drill. If his joint project with Pop Smoke ever drops (Quavo teased it months ago), expect for Huncho to go psychotic. Here, he shows that he can.
Drake went ape on his song “Demons,” released on Dark Lane Demo Tapes in May. Over the last 10 years, rap fans have grown to understand that Drizzy is really a sponge when it comes to absorbing rap styles and flows, which are reflected once again on this track. With production from JB Made It, Drake parasails over the beat, leaving just enough room for the bass and hi-hat to loop before he dives back in. He shows his mastery level of drill even more by stabbing in punchlines like “viral” and “movie,” popularized by Brooklyn drill crooner Fivio Foreign, who appears on the song alongside Sosa Geek. He also weaves in phrases in his flow like “My TD Bank is on what? My TD Bank is on Kylie!” with speed and precision, just like Muhammad Ali once did in the ring. The beat is no match for the flow that Drake had to combat it. Go ahead and ring the bell because the 6 God wins this round.
Lil Tjay isn’t even a drill artist, but he’s a palpable example of taking a musical trend in one’s city and propelling it forward. He feeds off proving that he can attack any beat, opening a magician hat of techniques and styles each time he hops on a drill song like Pop Smoke’s “War.” On the sub side of the beat, Tjay uses his voice to coat the foundation with an intoxicating hum. And on the surface, the timing of his bars is supreme and broken just enough to allow himself to come up for air before he dives back in. The Bronx rapper adds an ideal melodic element to a gritty sub-genre. But don’t let his singing distract you from the fact that he’s talking about sending someone to the reaper. His flow sends the beat in the same direction though. Exemplified in songs like this, a drill tape from Lil Tjay would immediately join the conversation of being arguably one of the best projects from a new rapper in the city.