2020 has been a bit of a strange year, hasn’t it? With everything going on in the world and the lack of live shows it seems that there are very few bodies of work released this year that are sticking.
We’ve had the likes of alternative hip hop behemoth Run The Jewels drop their highly anticipated fourth album and despite the political relevance of their message it came and went in a flash. The same is true for so many other albums and due to the hectic new cycle, disruption to the traditional rollout and general mess of the music industry and life at large it would appear many of the big hitter’s music isn’t maintaining the same ubiquitous presence that it had pre-COVID.
However, with that being said one album that seems to have broken through the seemingly impenetrable noise of COVID-19 and captured the attention of fans everywhere is the late Brooklyn Drill artist Pop Smoke’s posthumous debut album ‘Shoot For the Stars, Aim for the Moon’. More on that below, but a quick note that a running theme in this month’s dispatch from the world of drill is the undeniable impact of the UK scene’s sound on the rest of the world.
The biggest moments internationally, in drill this month owe a lot to the rapid spread of the dark 808s and running hi-hats that have come to soundtrack the streets of London. Even Drake has dipped his toes in the water again and it appears that it’s only the beginning of the internationalisation of the genre.
Anyways, here are the biggest releases of the month.
Pop Smoke – Shoot For the Stars, Aim for the Moon
Released on July 3 this month, the late Brooklyn Drill rapper Pop Smoke’s posthumous debut album came in a resoundingly commercialised package. Stacked to the ceiling with high profile guest features from the likes of Young Thug and DaBaby and two features from Quavo (No one needs two Quavo features on their album) it had the same grandiose feeling of any other album dropped by a genuine star.
Despite its more polished finish that arguably erased some of the gruff imperfections that made Pop’s sound so appealing, it was a huge moment for Brooklyn drill.
Reaching number one in the US Billboard Charts, selling 251,000 equivalent album units and being streamed a total of 268 million times in its first week of release the album was an inarguable commercial success. One only topped by The Weeknd, BTS, Lil Uzi Vert, Eminem, and Lady Gaga this year.
In a more nuanced sense, it was recognition of both Brooklyn drill and subsequently UK drill’s influence in the world of hip hop.
For those looking a deeper dive listen to Pitchfork’s podcast on Brooklyn drill, but put simply the Big Apple’s relationship with the genre owes a lot to the UK producers that helped influence its sound such as 808 Melo, Yoz Beats and AXL Beats who produced for the artists that would cement the style that Pop Smoke helped shoot into the stratosphere.
Pop Smoke’s album and the subsequent reaction is further proof that the sound is only getting started.
Headie One x Drake – Only You Freestyle
Opinions are divided on Drake’s appropriation of styles coming from the UK and beyond, but what is indisputable is that the Toronto rapper is bringing attention to UK drill like never before.
We had Kanye shout out Skepta at the Brits back in 2015 and while UK music didn’t ask for the shout out and doesn’t need the validation for the work they’ve been doing, it no doubt lit up the sound to a wider audience.
Most recently, however, we saw Drake and Headie One link up on ‘Only You Freestyle’. Though Drake has some questionable flows and oddly and without warning, swaps between Arabic and English, Headie came through with a stellar showing.
Drake has nodded to drill’s murky sounds before when he released ‘War’ which featured on his ‘Dark Lane Demo Tapes’ earlier this year, which was produced by AXL Beats who as noted before also worked with Pop Smoke.
Whether or not people enjoy Drake’s position as a defacto tastemaker for what sounds are often palatable for the mainstream, ‘War’ and subsequently ‘Only You Freestyle’ mark an important moment in a genre that has traditionally been abrasive and surveillance-heavy moving towards the forefront.
Offica x Blanco x Reggie – Where’s The Motive
Heading back to the Emerald Isle Offica, Rejjie B and founder of Harlem Spartans Blanco linked up on a new anthem ‘Where’s The Motive’.
Having ditched the mask just a couple of months ago, Offica has taken to a more traditional approach in and trades bars with the pair over a thumping instrumental from CZR who already has credits on records for Pop Smoke and DigDat.
ONEFOUR – Home and Away
Taking a quick 24-hour flight to Aus, prolific outfit ONEFOUR shared ‘Home And Away’ just last week. It’s the first single from the group’s forthcoming debut EP and highlights the disparity between their reality and the sun-soaked imagery of their hometown that is frequently seen on tv.
Earlier this year they linked with A$AP Ferg for ‘Say It Again‘ and with their latest release it’s shaping up to be a big year for the Aussie crew.
For those unacquainted, it’s worth watching Noisey’s short doc on the group:
Photo: Griffen Lotz // Rolling Stone // Shutterstock