Words by Elijah Tim Pareno and MC Galang

“Akala mo ‘ata, mababait tao sa hood ko?” (You thought the folks in my hood are nice?)

Editor’s note: In February of 2022, Nateman, Realest Cram, and CK YG released “Akala Mo Ata” (You Thought), an unmistakably drill track that touches on gang violence, despite a clear disclaimer at the beginning: all weapons featured in the music video were props. These include toy Armalites and pistols being waved at the camera.

The scene, at least, even without the display of weaponry, is a hallmark of drill. Just go on YouTube and type “drill” and you’ll be served videos with thumbnails showing a group of deadpan youth, often decked in black, at times, faces covered. In the music video of Thai hip hop giant YOUNGOHM’s “Bust Down Thailand,” the atmosphere is both chilling and menacing, a couple of flamethrowers decked the location—almost just a stone’s throw structurally from British hip hop collective 67’s (or better known to older fans as OSG) influential 2016 hit “Lets Lurk” featuring rap and grime MC Giggs.

Welcome to drill. — MG

With roots from the south side of Chicago in the 2010s, drill reflected and became a response to what Chicago producer DJ L described as a “culture of violence” in the city, eventually adapted by hip hop artists in South London until it morphed into its own sound now known as UK drill.

Stylistically, drill bears many similarities to trap music, produced with a slower to moderate tempo, although faster tempos are not unheard of. Thematically, drill MCs (or “drillers”) center on violence and nihilism—no matter who makes it, or where. In the Philippines, drill can be heard not just in the capital. Like most things when it comes to American imports, including hip hop, Pinoy rappers have caught up. But unlike before, the drill scene isn’t confined to just the capital.

From Pasay in Metro Manila to Davao in the South, drill feels more decentralized. For local rappers Soulja444 of Laguna-based group Villa Mob and CJDawgz, they started posting snippets of their early drill-inspired tracks in local Facebook groups mostly centered around hip hop culture. It was during a time when hashtags like ‘#PHDrill’ was nowhere near an community call. To Soulja444, making drill music was something he was longing to try out for a long time and he eventually convinced his other collective B22 Dawg Pound to learn more about it.

“Matagal na ko nakikinig ng drill, [around] 2016,” (I’ve been listening to drill, since around 2016) Soulja444 tells HipHopDX Asia. “Mula ‘Chiraq’ drill una kong sino-soundtrip. (I first listened to ‘Chiraq’ drill) Sila Fredo Santana, Chief Keef, L’A Capone,” naming Chicago natives who made their mark in the drill scene.

He shared, “Binubump ko sila habang nasa biyahe papasok at biyahe pauwi basically pag natripan ko magpahype sila soundtrip ko.” (I bump their music on the commute to and from home, basically if I wanted to hype myself, I listen to them.)

Soulja444 also cited UK drill as part of his drill education. “Tapos na-introduce ako 2018 sa UK drill, kina 67 LD, Stormzy, AJ Tracey, Digga D naaangasan ako gawa ng atake nila sa beat parang weird na ewan pero di ko agad naisip lumapat sa beats ng drill pero I think I tried it nung 2018, laro-laro lang pero ‘di ko talaga masakyan.” (And then I was introduced to UK drill in 2018, to LD, Stormzy, AJ Tracey, and Digga D. I thought it was so cool, how they approach the beat. It’s like, weird… I don’t know, but I didn’t think of immediately adopting drill. I think I tried it in 2018, just fun and games, but I didn’t really get into it.) However, Soulja444 observed that rap cadences similar to drill already existed before producers could catch up. He cited rap acts Owfuck and Bugoy Na Koykoy as similar progenitors of the rap style.

It was a trial-and-error journey for Soulja444 as a driller until they finally rode on the style when it took off in the Philippines in January of 2021. The music video for Villa Mob’s “Two Step” featured Soulja444, Jamina, and Buensa wearing bandanas across their faces and donning hooded windbreakers. The weather was gray. The trio was mostly rapping about fakes and frauds. One comment said in Tagalog, “This is not drill [yet], this is grime. Drill is not just about the beat but the lyrical content” and went on to describe the origins of gang and street violence that was depicted during the sub-genre’s incubation in Chicago.

Regardless, it was a step toward drill becoming more popular in the country. “Nung medyo nag-gain ng traction yung ‘Two Step’, nawili na rin sila and inaral nila yung culture, story, pati style,” said Soulja444. (When ‘Two Step’ gained some traction, they enjoyed it and they studied it—the culture, the story, and the style.)

After the ‘#PHDrill’ hashtag gained ground online in mid-2021 and then again in 2022, it became less of a signifier that meant a trend was on a rise but more of a signal to enthusiasts, fans, and artists alike. It meant rap acts such as Woola from Caloocan, Warhogs from Iligan, World of Opps from Muntinlupa, Olgang from Pasay, and Villa Mob from Laguna are hard at work.

“I find it amusing how fast rappers hopped in (sic) when drill went mainstream,” Muntinlupa-based rapper Caleb Owa told HipHopDX Asia about drill’s popularity in the Philippines. He said that fast-rising sub-genres of hip hop such as drill weren’t necessarily new. He believes this sub-genre helped evolve hip hop “every step of the way, both culturally and musically.”

He likened it to when gangsta rap was “demonized by criminal law enforcement,” where rap lyrics were said to “incite violence.” The violence was already there and the artists are reporting on and responding to it through music.

Released earlier this year, Olgang’s  “WE OUTSIDE, DRILLIN!”—performed by CK YG, Nateman, Phaze, and Enzo—was dedicated to their friend John Paul. “Nagbawas kami ng mga lapuk simula nung nawala si John Paul,” (We got rid of assholes since we lost John Paul) they said in a pre-hook verse. Viewed almost 800,000 times, the music video for “WE OUTSIDE, DRILLIN!” earned widespread praise among fans for its style.

One comment, however, cautioned the young men regarding what he described as the use of gang signs. The user wrote, “Friendly reminder: Gang sign is not a joke and you should not throw it in the wrong places, especially if you live in the united states.” (Editor’s note: These reminders are part of a larger discussion on how adoption and interpretation of musical styles often happen on the auditory or even thematical level, but context and cultural nuances don’t always translate, or apply. There is a certain onus on artists to educate themselves in these areas.)

Olgang’s follow-up, “Akala Mo Ata,” (You Thought) has all the hallmarks of a typical drill music video: leg-swinging, balaclava-wearing, and gun-toting posse shots. Nateman pulls no punches calling out rappers who tout themselves as drillers but had little to no proximity to the realities drill was supposed to be about. He raps, “Gumagamit ka ng drill, pero diba taga village /Galing kami sa kalsada, habang yung sayo ay image,” (You use drill, but aren’t you from the village [gated, affluent neighborhoods] / We’re from the streets, you’re just about image.)

Hip hop scene mainstay Ronico Jermaine thinks that acts like Olgang are part of the emerging drill community in the Philippines. “There were pioneers around 2019, but 2022 is the year that it is in the process of making it to the mainstream in the Philippines,” he says, “Thanks to Olgang! They might be new, but we gotta give credit to their success.”

Header image: Top row (from left): Villa Mob/Facebook, Caleb Owa/YouTube; Bottom row (from left): Soulja444/Facebook, CJDawgz/Facebook, Olgang/Facebook; Inline photo: Olgang/Facebook