If Only You Knew: Grime & Drill For August Reviewed By Aaron Bishop

Aaron Bishop selects his top picks from the UK rap scene including projects from Unknown T and SL, and hits from Drake and Headie One, Digga D, and Ghetts

Headie One

Much like grime before it, UK drill could most definitely be considered protest music. A middle finger to the establishment. A way for the socioeconomically and racially oppressed members of society to voice both their frustrations and experiences, living often in survival mode and hunted not only by their "opps," but also by a racist government organisation in the police.

It is the sound of the streets, with a menacing overtone that has been laced with chaotic, insurgent production over which artists spit their bars; like someone telling horror stories around the campfire in the middle of the night. But while grime has roots growing outwards from UK garage, jungle, dancehall, and hip hop, UK drill artists have an even wider scope of inspiration to draw from including Afrobeats, Afroswing and trap. These wider influences, the pitfalls and successes of grime artists navigating commercial spaces in the past and the rise of streaming, have all contributed to the mainstream success that the rap scene in general has more readily experienced in recent years.

It has also meant that rappers are less afraid to experiment and push the boundaries of their sounds, becoming artists and musicians in their own right. As a result, the wider scene is in the strongest place it has ever been, helped along in recent years by such lighthouse figures as Kanye West and Drake, giving it a platform to shine at a global level. With drill now boring into the fabric of pop culture on both sides of the Atlantic, producers are playing a key role in bridging the gap and musically uniting the US and the UK scenes.

Producers such as 808 Melo, Swirv and Yoz Beats have supplied beats for artists of the calibre of Drake and the late Pop Smoke, with whom Melo had a close relationship, having been behind a large number of his production. Pop Smoke’s manager Steven Victor even commented, "All the kids that are buzzing in New York, the one common thread are these [London] producers." One such producer is M1 On The Beat whose name is one of a few (such as MK The Plug and Carns Hill), who have been widely credited with shaping the soundscape of UK drill and whose work is spotlighted in many of the tracks selected for this month’s column.

Grime and drill are very much elements of the same thing, like layers of the same cake that when all put together make up the UK rap scene. Drill is the evolution of a sound, an idea rebirthed into something that resonates with a whole new generation and is seeping its way to the forefront of the music industry. It has not come without its challenges – which could be discussed in a whole column of its own – but if there is one thing that drill absolutely shares with grime, it’s that it is here to stay.

Headie One x Drake – ‘Only You Freestyle’

And the new heavyweight champion of drill is Headie One… If there was any doubt previously, Headie One is The King Of Drill. Not only did he manage to get the holy grail that is the coveted Drake feature, but he also outshone him on the M1 On The Beat-produced track while simultaneously raising his profile across the pond. The power of a Drake feature is not something to be sniffed at – just ask Dave – but with Drake’s continued love of drill it wouldn’t be surprising if we hear more collaborations between the pair (especially seeing as this is just a freestyle). Headie did recently say his album is 79% done, and this drop has only gone on to further strengthen his already prominent position in the scene.

The symbolic nature of the track is perhaps more impactful than the song itself as Drake kicks things off, finding a pocket that is not the kindest to the ear, while managing to reel off a few bars in Arabic – not being content with just rapping in English and French this year alone. But when Headie jumps in halfway through, the levels are risen again (although his diction could be clearer). Either way, crowned by Drake as "the best drill artist in the world" and reaching No.9 in the Official Singles Chart, The King Of Drill is here and long may he reign.

Unknown T – Rise Above Hate

Since the release of ‘Homerton B’ in 2018, it’s been hard to mention drill without including Unknown T in the conversation. Even during his stint in jail for a crime in which he was found not guilty, his name was still ringing off as the streets eagerly awaited his return. Through singles such as ‘Deh Deh’ and ‘Fresh Home’, alongside a ‘Daily Duppy’ freestyle, the East Londoner has not disappointed on the singles front, but over 16 tracks the 21-year-old manages to make his debut project a memorable one.

Taking in features from the likes of M Huncho, Young T & Bugsey, AJ Tracey, and Young Adz, Unknown T shows his versatility as he experiments with new sounds and rhyme schemes while holding his own with established acts. Rise Above Hate is a statement of intent from Unknown T. Reaching number 14 in the Album Charts, the project showcases his crossover appeal as he taps into trap, R&B and his traditional drill style, pushing the genre into diverse and interesting directions. As he swaps the roads for the recording studio once and for all, this is a worthy debut as well as a new beginning.

M1llionz – ‘B1llionz’

Close your eyes and imagine you’re chilling with the mandem or at a shisha bar, and one of your boys is telling you a story about the wild events going on in his life. That’s what it’s like listening to the Birmingham-born M1llionz who has risen to prominence with tracks such ‘HDC’, ‘BX19’ and ‘Y PREE’. Pairing a skippy flow with garage-tinged production, courtesy of BKay, he takes things up another level with ‘Blllionz’ as he sets tales of the trap against bars about how his life has changed for the better in light of turning his attention more fully to music.

The track’s visuals follow this story, featuring scenes of him in the traphouse and the interview room of a police station, before later taking us to a lavish mansion, providing an insight into the life he could attain when making money legitimately. The transition appears to be going smoothly so far though, as the song has earned him well-deserved UK chart attention. M1llionz hasn’t had a miss in his catalogue thus far, and is one to keep an eye on as his star continues to rise at a rapid rate through 2020.

SL – Selhurst SE25
(Mic Cheque)

At just 18-years-old, SL has already proven himself to be a mainstay in the scene with songs such as ‘Gentleman’ and ‘Tropical’ racking up over 60 million YouTube views between them. While many artists seek to gain views, there might not be as many that will then use that platform responsibly as SL has sought to. In light in the Black Lives Matter movement, he’s pledged to donate a minimum of £100,000 to several charitable causes that strive to impact young people of all ethnicities across the UK in positive ways. Starting off in the UK, he then aims to positively help his grandparents’ community in Nigeria.

With the release of his second EP, Selhurst SE25, then, you could be forgiven for expecting more introspective and meaningful content from the rapper. Instead, we get more of the same, talking about loud and girls, and how he can take yours. Three of the four tracks are produced by in-demand American Kenny Beats who has worked with the likes of Vince Staples, Schoolboy Q and Denzel Curry, and while the songs aren’t bad at all, I can’t help but feel like this was something of a missed opportunity for SL.

The standout on the project (some may argue it’s ‘Little Bird’) is ‘Hit The Block’ which features Pa Salieu and is the only track not to be produced by Kenny Beats, and rather by Kwes Darko. The track is a delight with its eerie high notes and dark bass, coupled with a hard-hitting beat for the pair to flex over. At just under 11 minutes long, it is understandable that this project didn’t delve deeper into the mind of the South London rapper but there is enough here to suggest that SL is more than capable of providing a full length project that will cement his place at the top of the drill scene.

Dutchavelli – ‘Black’

Dutchavelli has turned out to be one of the surprise packages of 2020. Having released music since 2016 (then under the moniker of Dutch), he’s set the rap scene alight this year with tracks such as ‘Only If You Knew’, ‘Burning’, which features M Huncho, and ‘I Dunno’, his collaboration with Tion Wayne and the biggest rapper in the UK: Stormzy.

His gravelly voice is instantly recognisable on ‘Black’ as he uses a double-time flow as his weapon of choice to attack the trap instrumental produced by Big Zeeko. The track is a no-nonsense ode to the streets and lays out Dutchavelli’s status as someone you should think twice about messing with as he offers an insight into the situations he’s been in and the different ways in which they’ve played out. Serving as a perfect follow up to the Top 10 charting ‘I Dunno’, it is surely only a matter of time before we get a full project from the Birmingham-born, East London rapper.

Digga D – ‘Woi’

Prior to his arrest in early 2019, Digga D had been making waves in the scene with tracks such as ‘No Diet’ earning him a UK Top 20 spot and fans in celebrity names as big as Zac Efron. His release from prison in May of this year then set the stage for him to continue where he left off and he does not disappoint with the lively M1 On The Beat-produced ‘Woi’. The energetic Suave-directed visuals match the energy of the track, paying homage to LA’s Crip culture, seeing the West Londoner cruising with his crew in low-riders and cooling off at a pool party with the colour blue prominent throughout.

His personality shines through, while lyrically he turns his attention to his time behind bars, the politics of the road lifestyle and the implications and complications that come with fame. The song reaffirms Digga D’s status as one of the leading lights of UK drill and in turn, is one of my personal favourites of the year so far from any genre. We know that he has tracks in the pipeline with some aforementioned artists in this list, such as Unknown T and M1llionz, and though he’s since been recalled to jail to much furore on social media, it’s hoped he’ll soon be let out.

Potter Payper – 2020 Vision

When Potter Payper was released from prison after three years away, many fans (including myself) hoped that a new project would shortly follow. While Training Day 3 – the final part in a classic mixtape trilogy – is indeed on the horizon, for now we have to make do with 2020 Vision which isn’t a problem in the slightest.

Comprised of four tracks, this EP lets us know in no uncertain terms that the Essex native’s pen has not dulled in the slightest during his time away. In fact, he may be the sharpest he’s ever been with a renewed focus as he reels off heartfelt, introspective bars about what he’s been through while in the can. Wearing his heart on his sleeve, he talks about friends passing away, reminisces on the realities of the streets and times where he was sleeping on sofas as his mission for money took over his life. The EP is a welcome re-introduction to one of road rap’s finest exports and with the trilogy-capping Training Day 3 due sometime soon, Potter Payper is back like he never left and seemingly ready to take his place at the table alongside the best in the country.

Ghetts – ‘Mozambique’ ft Jaykae & Moonchild Sanelly

On Ghetto Gospel: The New Testament, Ghetts showed that he had mastered each one of his alter egos. This made his next project even more exciting as he had the freedom to explore and develop his sound even further. Regarded as one of the best MCs to ever grace the microphone, especially in the UK, the arrival of ‘Mozambique’ as the first single off the upcoming LP signifies the exemplary mastery the East Londoner has of his craft.

Through an amalgamation of wordplay, humour and expertise in the pockets, Ghetts shows shades of Ghetts, Ghetto and J Clarke, picking apart the beat with an elite level of poise and subtle arrogance like a lion strategically stalking a gazelle. Birmingham MC Jaykae and South African artist Moonchild Sanelly each add a venomous verse and hypnotic hook respectively to proceedings. Visuals for the track, meanwhile, are handled by Ruff Mercy, who directed, and Saoud Khalaf, who filmed. Together the pair manage to intensify the gravitas of the track through the abstract animations and shots of the ends. With a few more singles promised before the album drops, this is nothing short of an exceptional way to start the rollout which could shape up to be something very special indeed.

Abra Cadabra – ‘On Deck’

Abra Cadabra caused quite a stir when he dropped ‘On Deck’ midway through July. Supported by a haunting instrumental from RA$H & Rxckson to compliment his deep voice, the North Londoner flows over the beat as easily as a year 11 kid taking the ball away from a year 7 in the playground, something Abz probably did countless times in his younger days.

Many fans have questioned if Abz has used ‘On Deck’ to fire shots at Edmonton rapper Tion Wayne, after he had tension online with OFB affiliate RV. With bars such as, "Like, five of them boy been cheffed and all now, nothin’ round ‘ere been dead/ So when you ask ’bout the 9, I dunno, I dunno/ Do they really want war? I dunno, I dunno/ Have they really got guns? I dunno, I dunno," he references the aforementioned ‘I Dunno’, using the same flow while calling out "the 9" directly. It remains to be seen if these are just warning shots or something more but either way, Abra Cadabra is back with a vengeance and a new street anthem to boot.

Manga Saint Hilare – ‘Dumping Again’ ft Footsie

Manga Saint Hilare has had a year which few can rival in terms of work rate. Having already released a 15-track album (Make It Out Alive, as well as another project called Interlude Deluxe, as we hit the halfway point in the year he’s back once more, this time with fellow grime veteran Footsie. ‘Dumping Again’ sees the pair go back to back over production from MoreNight, showcasing their refined skills on the microphone with lightning bolt flows and energetic delivery reminding the new school that they still have a trick or two up their sleeves. It’s a pairing that begs the question of how much more magic Manga has in the tank for the remaining months of 2020? If the first seven months are anything to go by, then we’re in for a treat.

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