- This is a piece on my preferences, not an attempt at an official top-5 claim. Don’t get ya feelings hurt.
- The label “entertaining” is an aggregate term based on flow, voice, persona, and the shock value/cleverness of bars (not necessarily the best lyricists or the “realest” rappers).
My fellow Americans,
Yes, the UK Drill scene is largely inspired by the original version of Drill in Chicago. But this should not take away from how innovative and special UK Drill is. In the midst of their own political chaos and dissonance between what goes on in the streets (i.e. knife crimes, gang shit) and how the mainstream (i.e. White Brits) views these issues, UK Drill is essential in giving boxed-in Black youth (s/o Morrisson though) the platform to tell us what’s really going on.
While Chicago Drill has evolved to include more reflective and lyrical talent such as Polo G, King Von, and FBG Duck, its main appeal is raw, chaotic sounds and rappers who get their point across with aggression and raw melodies. Chief Keef embodied this, and Drill rappers like the late Fredo Santana, King L, and Lil Bibby represented the sound well.
While UK Drill is still raw and violent, instrumentals are made to be chilling and sparse more than they are explosive. The UK Drill sound is also influenced by Grime and UK garage music. Forceful rappers like V9 and Burner exist, but most of the UK scene’s top rappers, Drillers included, place a heavy emphasis on sneaky wordplay and tightly-patterned flows.
I’m late to the party, but I’ve listened to enough artists to know who I really admire in the UK Drill scene. The five artists below are not my exact choices for the five best UK Drill artists, but they all have skill sets and personas that make them great. If you aren’t into UK Drill yet, this list is a great starting point.
Flow: Relentless. A steady onslaught of punches with the occasional knockout line.
Voice: Solid baritone, deadly serious.
Lyrical style: Devilish. Arguably the most violent bars in UK Drill (#2 might have something to say about that), loves to make it clear that anyone who backs his opps in beef also gets the smoke (e.g. “Slap man’s sister for lovin’ her brother”). This has become a running joke among V9 fans (e.g. “Ching man’s doctor for saving his patient”).
Persona: Even for UK Drill culture where ballies—balaclavas, masks—are the norm, V9’s Deadpool mask is unmistakable. Clearly, it adds to the outrageously aggressive raps. Reps Homerton fiercely along with Unknown T.
Essential Songs: “Charged Up,” “Devilish,” “Andy & Dwight”
Flow: Bouncy, triplet flow with many internal rhymes.
Voice: Sounds like he’s always telling a joke, but he’s being serious. Matches his lyrical style.
Lyrical style: Charismatic, balances cheeky humor with road shit skillfully (e.g. “I’m kway kway far away, servin shots like I’m a barmaid/Puttin’ copper in this machine, it just feels like I’m in an arcade”). The type to say something real about life in jail then rap some funny shit to make you forget.
Persona: Humble, comedic, but a baby-face assassin on the mic. Star potential, “Air Force” was the first Drill song to crack the UK Singles Chart’s top-20.
Essential Songs: “Air Force,” “Back 2 Back”
3. Digga D
Flow: Many syllables, calm but extremely precise delivery.
Voice: Kind of high but very mature, confident.
Lyrical style: Extremely clever. Knows how to layer punchlines and references as if he’s trying to hide them from us. Great sense of humor (e.g. “brown and cute like Keesha, can’t lie Lisa a real-life moaner (Mona)”), but can get chilling very quickly.
Persona: Bit mysterious. Despite not rocking a mask, his “Mad About Bars” vid doesn’t reveal his face once and his IG was deleted out of nowhere recently. Razor-sharp wit on the mic makes him sound like a plotter. Got a surprising Zac Efron cosign.
Essential Songs: “6 + 4,” Digga’s “Mad About Bars,” (might be my favorite of the series) “Imagine”
Flow: Forceful. Has good space in between bars that allows every image/punchline to land hard.
Voice: Forceful. Bit of a lisp, but serves to make him sound grimy.
Lyrical style: Crystal-clear depictions of violence, highly skilled with punchlines that create these images (e.g. “Hit the opp block late night go huntin’ I’m really tryna catch me a prey”). Rarely reflective, always the hunter. Also, really knowledgable references to American pop culture (e.g. “Bro was itchin’ to get down my man/But I told him ‘leave him for me’ the boy is mine like Monica and Brandy”).
Persona: All about chingin’, but surprisingly cultured. Proud North Londoner like #1 on this list.
Essential Songs: “Crep Shop,” “Roddy Ricch,” “Why Always Me”
1. Headie One
Flow: Syncopated, laid back with sharp pronunciations plus woozy melodies infused in verses (e.g. “THEY THINK I DO JUUUUJU”).
Voice: Deep with a calmness that makes his stories on road sound even more stark. Sometimes leans more into his Ghanaian accent (e.g. “Rubbery Bandz”).
Lyrical style: Cold, straightforward images of street life. His bars are thankful for the come-up but haunted by the struggle. Mad football references (probably the best rapper at this), many catchphrases including, “Shhh” (to censor names/crimes), “Bad b come to the Nizz” (North London, Tottenham), “They think I do juju,” “ONE,” “Tommy Turn,” and anything to do with “half a b.”
Persona: Too chill. Designer tracksuit lover. Doesn’t shy away from his African heritage. Has a vision for himself and his people beyond Broadwater Farm, openly rejects “Drill rapper” as his main label due to its stigma in the UK.
Essential Songs: Challenging because of how diverse Headie’s sound is. “Drill, trap, rap I’m doin’ it all.”
For his hit-making ability, “Know Better” and “Both,” the latter of which is a huge hit (and not a Drill song at all). For bars, “Already” and “Match Day.”
If you know the scene, I hope this list is respectable. If you know little to nothing about UK Drill, I hope this was informative and gets you ready to dive in. You can pick the slang up quicker than you think, please give these artists a chance.