Post-9/11, New York City's music scene became a space for dealing with collective shock and grief. The indie scene, led by The Strokes, LCD Soundsystem and the like, offered an outlet for the emotions of the time, aided by an ever-growing crop of new local acts (e.g. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio, and Interpol). This cultural environment, soon to be compounded by the financial crisis of the later '00s, fostered the indie sleaze aesthetic—an offshoot of grunge and precursor to today's bourgeois hipster—which embraced a more carefree and rebellious lifestyle and resonated with the generation's youthful nihilism.
New York is once again the stage for a seismic culture shift. The 17-year-old post-pandemic kid has experienced and endured more than their counterparts of the past two decades. They have seen a global health emergency, political upheaval, protests, riots, barren streets, and a mass exodus of people and resources; these same factors have laid the groundwork for a new generation of artists to shape the world in their image.
"A subgenre of drill, the music has the lighthearted and referential attitude of internet memes, but in audio form."
The shift in culture and attitudes pre- and post-pandemic can be followed in the response to and subsequent evolution of Drill. Pioneered in Chicago in the early 2010s by Chief Keef and Young Chop, Drill moved overseas to London where its sound was shaped by fledgling producers 808 Melo and Axl before exploding stateside again by the decade's end—in Brookyn in particular—with the late Pop Smoke, 22Gz, and Sheff G. The post-pandemic response to Drill has been led by rappers Cash Cobain and Chow Lee, emerging into the distinct and widely appealing genre of Sexy Drill. Cash, who began producing for fellow Queens artist Shawny Binladen, was first known for his audacious use of super-recognizable samples, now commonly referred to as "Sample Drill." In his own music, he uses the traditional sonic hallmarks of Drill but diverges further in thematic content. Instead of opps and blocks, he raps about partying, women, and having a good time. His signature sampling style also influenced the separate but concurrent category of Bronx Drill, led by artists such as Kay Flock, Dougie B, and B-Lovee, as well as Jersey Club up-and-comers like Bandmanrill and MCVertt (who also take cues from Baltimore Club). Sexy Drill has become a musical zeitgeist, from the radio to the dancefloor.
"Genre was once a practical tool for organizing record shops and programming radio stations, but it seems unlikely to remain one in an era in which all music feels like a hybrid, and listeners are no longer encouraged (or incentivized) to choose a single area of interest."
The New Yorker
New York Soul
Whereas Sexy Drill responded by co-opting the sound of Drill, artists in the NY Soul movement have pushed in the opposite direction, creating an intellectual, progressive, left-of-center sound that defies easy categorization. For that reason, it is better to describe what the genre leaders are doing than try to explain the style too broadly. Liim, a 20 years old rapper from Harlem, glides through the world with the ease of someone well beyond his years. He has recorded at Shangri-La and modeled for Supreme, but his music, a blend of hip-hop and alternative, stays true to his Harlem roots. The genre-bending approach of NY Soul artists results in a sound that honors the past while boldly stepping into the new, embodying the eclectic and ever-evolving spirit of New York's musical heritage.