In honor of Hip Hop’s 50th Anniversary, The Shade Room would like to commemorate the moments, the pioneers, and the tools of the art form which have ultimately transcended the music genre, influencing every aspect of modern-day popular culture. Join us each week as we look back at five decades of hip hop.
Diggin’ Into The Start Of The Drill Scene
Now that we’re in the turnt-up 2010s, it’s only right that we take a moment to give the rundown on drill music.
According to MasterClass, the subgenre took off in Chicago’s South Side in the early 2010s, and it places “an emphasis on ear-catching melodies embellished with brooding menace.”
Thanks to hard-hitting artists like Chief Keef, King Von, Lil Durk, and G Herbo, drill eventually reached a wider set of listeners and began to achieve new heights.
With his 2012 Finally Rich album, Chief Keef hit HARD with bops like “Love Sosa,” “I Don’t Like,” and “Hate Bein’ Sober.” His plethora of subsequent mixtapes and other projects, including “Faneto” (2014), helped solidify the rapper’s status as a cultural icon.
Chief Keef | Faneto pic.twitter.com/RxA1RicS83
— HipHopHotspot (@HipHopxHotspot) August 27, 2023
Additionally, Windy City rappers affiliated with Only the Family (OTF) came thru with big hits of their own, such as King Von’s “Crazy Story” (2018) and Lil Durk’s Remember My Name (2015) and 7220 (2022) projects.
Eventually, the Chicago-curated sound found a home in New York City through “Brooklyn drill,” with Pop Smoke being a pivotal figure in the subgenre upon making his professional debut in 2019. The phenomenon also took off overseas, evidenced by “UK drill.”
Pop Smoke | Welcome To The Party pic.twitter.com/TBpfxqB4Wr
— HipHopHotspot (@HipHopxHotspot) August 22, 2023
YMCMB Icons Forever: The Impact Of Drake & Nicki Minaj
Moving along, Drake and Nicki Minaj having their respective careers blow UP during this time is worth honing in on as well.
2010 saw the release of Drake and Nicki’s debut albums, Thank Me Later and Pink Friday, respectively. Through their affiliation with Lil Wayne‘s Young Money group, they were already in the spotlight, though their solo work took them to new levels.
Over the next few years, Drizzy kept the momentum going with Take Care (2011) and Nothing Was The Same (2013), while Nicki Minaj did the same with Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (2012) and The Pinkprint (2014).
By this point, the artists were full-fledged icons, and their stardom only grew from there, with 2018 seeing the release of the aptly-named Scorpion and Queen albums. However, the rise of Drake and Nicki Minaj didn’t only see the artists grow their successful careers. Instead, the rappers impacted the genre right before our very eyes and established themselves as heavy-hitting forces.
In 2019, The New York Times gave Drake his flowers for helping to usher in an era of melodic rap, while HotNewHipHop lauded Nicki with extensive praise in a 2022 thinkpiece for turning the game on its head.
With Drake being a steadily-memed star and Nicki curating an ultra-loyal fanbase with quite a reputation (the Barbz), these rappers’ reach is undeniable.
All in all, Nicki Minaj and Drake are significant players in shaping hip hop during this period, and — with both artists having highly-anticipated projects coming and continually providing fire features for other stars — their impact isn’t showing signs of fizzling out any time soon.
— Nicki Minaj (@NICKIMINAJ) July 9, 2023
A New Era Of Female Rappers: The Women Come Thru To Take OVER!
Jumping off of Nicki Minaj, it’s pertinent to mention how a new era of female rap followed her blow-up.
Onward from the mid-2010s, several artists who were inspired by the hard work of Nicki and earlier icons like Missy Elliott, Trina, Lil’ Kim, and Foxy Brown began to hit the scene.
From Latto and Megan Thee Stallion to Asian Doll and Saweetie, the gworlz came in HOT, with the “ICY GRL” rapper calling this period the “golden age of women” in hip hop during an interview with CBC’s Q with Tom Power.
Rico Nasty is an artist who masterfully balanced masculine and feminine vibes with the “sugar trap” subgenre she helped curate. During a chat with XXL, she was asked to provide further insight on her signature sound, which blends light-hearted, bubblegum beats with raw lyrics — as evidenced by her iconic Sugar Trap 2 mixtape (2017).
“Sugar trap is the part of the trap that traps you. The part of the trap that’s fun. … It’s like a headspace and a way of fashion and a way of life. Sugar trap is just, like, pure.”
It’s also worth noting that XXL featured multiple women in its annual Freshman Class series for the first time in 2019.
The Ladies Revitalize Hip Hop While Puttin’ In WERK
In City Girls, Hot Girls and the Re-Imanginging of Black Women in Hip Hop and Digital Spaces, author Kyesha Jennings explores how this new era of women rappers helped fuel their fans to join their mission to “disrupt, subvert or challenge dominant gender scripts in hip hop.”
As this phenomenon brought about a new wave of empowerment and Black Girl Magic, it paved the way for stars like GloRilla, Monaleo, Coi Leray, Sexyy Red, Flo Milli, and Ice Spice.
While on the subject, we should note that — just last year — Latto told Power 106 Los Angeles that women rappers have to “put in more work” than their male counterparts.
“We the ones that gonna put in more work to get to where we are. … We gotta incorporate choreography, we gotta be glam head to toe. Out videos gotta be high production — when we perform at these award shows, it’s not just, ‘Oh you on stage and just rock out with a mic.'”
The “Big Energy” artist added, “They critique the f**k out of us, so if you see a male and a female rapper at the same level, that female put in way more work to get to that same level as that male did.”
Although some, like Jermaine Dupri, compare the new era of female hip hop to “strippers rapping,” it’s undeniable that the ladies are in their bag and making big moves in the rap game!
— 422 (@lilvonnie4) September 17, 2016
Goin’ Viral! Social Networks As A Vehicle For Hip Hop
As technology continued to advance and change the music game, it eventually reached the point where artists could take their careers into their own hands by utilizing social media platforms.
Entities like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube were already household names by the time the 2010s rolled around, and other platforms like MySpace — where Nicki Minaj was “discovered” — were all but gone with the wind by that point.
People were able to get content and ideas out to new audiences through these social networks, and some artists were able to capitalize on the platforms to reach major heights.
By mid-2010, SoundCloud hit one million users, per TechCrunch, and artists like Lil Yachty, Smokepurpp, A Boogie wit a Hoodie, Lil Pump, Trippie Redd, XXXTentacion, and Juice WRLD eventually blew up through the platform.
Lil Uzi Vert and Playboi Carti are two SoundCloud rappers who took off to particularly noteworthy heights, with their debut studio albums hittin’ the scene in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
Lil Pump says he, Smokepurpp, Lil Yachty, XXXTentacion, Lil Uzi Vert and Ski Mask The Slump God were among those who created SoundCloud rap. pic.twitter.com/V0zplugANY
— XXL Magazine (@XXL) August 7, 2018
We also have to acknowledge Xbox Live as a social network that impacted hip hop. Specifically, the platform led to the formation of YBN in 2014, which consisted of Cordae, YBN Nahmir, and Almighty Jay. The group’s sole project, YBN: The Mixtape, arrived in 2018, and the artists eventually embarked on their solo pursuits.
TikTok Enters The Chat
Of course, we’d be remiss to leave TikTok out of the discussion. The platform launched in 2016 — just one year before a similar app, Vine, went defunct. It brought about a class of stars who found widespread success by their tracks going viral on TikTok.
“I should maybe be paying TikTok. They really boosted the song. It was getting to the point that it was almost stagnant. When TikTok hit it, almost every day since that, the streams have been up. I credit them a lot.”
Many bops from some of the aforementioned women rappers — like Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage,” Ice Spice’s “Munch” (2022), GloRilla’s “F.N.F.” (2022), and Sexyy Red’s “Pound Town” (2023) — gained a hardy boost from the social network as well.
During a sit-down with Teen Vogue, Monaleo detailed how TikTok has helped to change the game.
“TikTok has become a career starter and I love it. I think it’s dope that artists are able to share their art on an app for fun and are granted opportunities to sustain themselves and their families. I think it offers women a broader audience and fresh ears. I love how you can casually scroll and hear a song that resonates with you. Your first introduction being the art itself gives artists the opportunity to be heard without bias.”
So, this era saw numerous stars blow up with the help of different social media platforms, and — as networks come and go — we can expect to see more rappers eventually hit the scene as well!
The Criminalization Of Lyrics & Implications For Hip Hop’s Future
Of course, a look at rap from 2010 to the present day leads us to the current situation impacting Young Thug and some of his associates.
In May 2022, authorities slapped Young Thug and 27 associates, including Gunna, with a 56-count RICO case. According to ABC News, officials swiftly submitted lyrics from various Thugger tracks as evidence. Some of the tracks include “Ski,” “Slatty,” and “Take It to Trial” — which were released through his and Gunna’s collaborative Slime Language 2 album in 2021.
While behind bars, Young Thug urged fans to sign the “Protect Black Art” petition in an effort to fight the criminalization of rap lyrics.
In Sean Freeland‘s From Paper to Prison: How a Rapper’s Bars Can Land Them Behind Bars, he acknowledges that — despite being “one of the most protected forms of free speech” — there’s “nothing yet exists that protects artistic expression from being used as a form of propensity evidence.”
Freeland also points out that lyrics are oftentimes “taken out of context” and generally “do not relate to the case,” though courts still choose to admit them as evidence.
“There is no limit for prosecutors who get their hands on a defendant’s lyrics. If they tend to portray the defendant in a bad light or could be used to show motive, intent, or some other aspect of a case, the caselaw suggests prosecutors will seek to introduce the lyrics into evidence – directly violating a defendant’s freedom of artistic expression. This infringement has enormous ramifications, often ending with the defendant’s conviction.”
As a result of the situation, many are concerned about the implications that the criminalization of rap lyrics can have on the genre. However, the battle is waging on as people speak out about authorities using rappers’ art against them in a court of law.