Ethan Herlock possesses the master blade.
Bandokay & Double Lz featuring SJ & Headie One – “Once in a While”
What’s red, anticipated by vulturine rap fans and suffered a couple of leaked tunes but finally just dropped? If you were thinking of Whole Lotta Red then you’re wrong – so, so wrong. Instead, OFB (Original Farm Boys) dropped their debut mixtape Frontstreet this month. Frontstreet is mostly composed of Bandokay, Double Lz and SJ, a triplet of steel-mouthed musketeers (fka Y.OFB and later became OFB) of Tottenham who blew up over the backdrop of Farmwater, an infamous council estate in Tottenham, Haringey. Now, it’s one of the most significant Drill groups in the UK. Throughout 2019, they never rejected a check, supporting Headie One’s Music x Road Tour, earned million plus views on GRM Daily, Mixtape Madness and contributing verses to the likes of Morrison, Yxng Bane and RV.
Completely stripped of their younger alias and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with elders like Headie One and RV, they wielded interplanetary consistency and proved their talent on their solo tracks, so it’s disappointing how Frontstreet seems to contradict that progress. The tape faced a chaotic rollout, suffering multiple leaks, poorly mixed verses and just when it seemed to be going alright, the video for “Youngest in Charge” dropped, revealing that SJ was arrested and is currently facing trial for a murder charge.
This underpins one of the few shining moments of the mixtape, “Once in a While.” The three budding rappers become sparring partners with OFB’s poster boy, Headie One. In the posse cut, Headie One comes hard with his verse and hook, referring to his black blade as his “best friend, that’s my best friend,” his baritone growl paying homage to Young Thug. While Bandokay and Double Lz rap about the same biographical material; going on glides, making their families proud and having clout. Both verses ultimately circle back to this recurring motif: their hope for SJ.
Still hungry for the success that seems to be coming at them a hundred miles per hour, Frontstreet nonetheless proves the crew still has a lot to learn.
Lil MDot – “MaKaRaKaLiN”
If you’re worried about Drill going pop after the Gun Lean phenomenon then you just aren’t looking good enough because there’s a lot of underground rappers conveying the rawness of Drill. Lil MDot, a protege of the late Showkey and Mdot, has been dropping gems since the early inception of Drill but hasn’t received any flowers yet. His latest “G-Style,” “MaKaRaKaLiN” shows Lil MDot belittling the blind haters.
You’re probably thinking “What does the fuck does MaKaRaKaLiN even mean?” Well, I didn’t know at first until Lil MDot confirmed via Instagram DMs that the title refers to the sounds of shots being fired and, being loyal to what he says – the whole track is a blitzkrieg – disses to rivals and the infamous Gun Leaning mascot might go over your head but it’ll ricochet when you wind it back for another listen.
Don’t be confused by his name, however, because when he’s on the mic, his presence is way more than miniature.
Dave – “Paper Cuts”
Never thought I’ll be writing about Dave in a UK Drill column, but we move. I’ll admit Dave is talented, I wouldn’t be wrong to draw him as Britain’s version of J.Cole where everything he says is interpreted as gospel and heralded as “facts” by your twitter mutual(s) who are convinced they’re going to be a millionaire at the age of 30 despite having no discernible gifts, plans or connections. In “Paper Cuts,” Dave drops the “we live in a society” lyrical content and re-enacts the fugitive ex-drug kingpin Modie he played on the newest series of Top Boy. He’s bellicose and arrogant while the Ghosty-produced beat contains a simple architecture; worming basslines and atavistic drums gives room for Dave to flaunt his wordplay.
While Dave/Modie’s flow is convincing most of the time, there’s this one lyric that’ll continue to haunt me and should never have seen the time of day (“She can have this horse’s dick / It’s calm if Megan a Stallion.”) But for the DMU Accounting student whose recent drip selfie got baited out on the FakeDripSpotter Twitter account, this track is probably the zenith of UK Drill.
Lil Aone – “PG Dons”
I’ve cheated with this track, considering it dropped in May 2019 from a cypher recorded two months earlier. I know I’m about to sound like that dude who begs for the AUX to end up playing Dave East, but trust me with this one. Bellingham’s Lil Aone fits comfortably near the tropical-laced music of SL and the cheeky confidence of SD Muni. He’s not standing shoulder to shoulder with those young artists mainly because he only has a total of, like, three songs to his belt. In “PG Dons,” it’s clear that the growing pains are starting to diminish and he’s comfortably maturing into a creamier version of UK Drill.
The beguiling piano keys that place the listener in a high-rise penthouse in Tokyo, sipping on the finest of sake while 808’s stutter across the spine of the track. One of the reasonable criticisms of UK Drill is that the lyrics and energy can get way too hot for your hands. “PG Dons” is accessible to non-Drill fans trying to find some music that isn’t encompassed by typical archetypes of UK Drill. “PG Dons” strives in its softness even though Lil Aone has a voice teeming with stone-faced confidence that’s perfectly tuned for the crud he chats about: scoring points, showing love to his brothers and sending shots to the other side. If you doubt his words on wax, he turns around and asks anyone to object (“Just ask anyone that chills in Catford.”)
Vintage Drop: 30 – “Where They Hiding”
A handful of the Drill rappers that blew in 2016 seem to be whispering a revival in 2020. The prolific A1 From The 9 promises a return back to the UK shortly after facing deportation and the highly-missed MizOrMac is rumored to be released from a lengthy prison sentence in early 2020. There’s one rapper along the few doesn’t seem to be promising a comeback and that’s B Side’s 30. An oft-forgotten rapper synonymous with the gritty sonics of Drill, “Where They Hiding” sits within the early Drill phrase of 2016 where bangers were disseminated through the bruk up speakers of a Samsung Galaxy that some Year 11’s were playing on the back of the bus and you was too shook to ask them to turn it down.
Originally uploaded on YouTube roughly late 2016, “Where They Hiding” was deleted by YouTube on request by Trident, which further reinforces my point on the importance of chronicling a suppressed genre.
30 had the knack for rapping with an unimpeachable authority that made you feel like a fool for even trying to doubt his stories and it’s all over this solo track that blew B Side up the ears of tastemakers and fans nationally. “Where They Hiding” is a simple diss track but it’s the journalistic edge that made B Side’s music as raw as the dope measured on a scale and then wrapped in cling film — the twelve-gauge shotgun that sounds like thunder and B Side’s Dee Dee driving the dinger.
In my opinion, what separated 30 from the rest was that he doesn’t just boast about his W’s; he’s human and everybody knows that catching L’s every once in a while is inevitable. 30 acknowledges that in his music but hustles to find a way to convert that back loss into a win. His lyrics come like buzzer beaters. Listen to the bit where 30 raps with a smirk on his face about getting left behind by some “friends” and in the next bar hits a lick with them and staining (robs) them for ten bags.
It wasn’t like 30 was carrying B Side like a ‘17 LeBron in a roster full of mediocrity (bar Kyrie.) Everyone in B Side contributed towards the music. Django’s clear enunciations made him the frontmen in crafting head-bopping hooks while KK’s buttery flow was perfect for doing back-and-forths. But 30 was the shining talent on a UK Drill group that seemingly on the rise – to Billboard Charts and Mercury Prize Awards? – not really but at least a dedicated fanbase and a potential MOBO Awards along the way. Sadly, their ascension quickly evaporated after prison stunts affected a handful of the members. With most of their manpower gone in a musical context, the South London-based Drill group slowly but surely fell back into obscurity.
After 30’s release, he sporadically dropped tracks, his most recent one, Kenan & Kel was released in June 2018 but the traction after dropping “Where They Hiding/Want Me in Cuffs” and the “Next Up” freestyle just wasn’t there any more. All we can do is hope in the future, 30 comes back to the scene, ready to tell us how he flipped that loss into a win. He might have a lot to rap about.