Pitchfork writer Alphonse Pierre’s rap column covers songs, mixtapes, albums, Instagram freestyles, memes, weird tweets, fashion trends—and anything else that catches his attention.

It’s happening again: Subgenres that have been dismissed by the popular music industry for years are being adopted by its biggest white stars. Just a couple of days after Justin Bieber laid down vocals on WizKid and Tems’ Afropop hit “Essence,” Ed Sheeran put out a drill-inspired remix of his single “Bad Habits,” which currently sits at No. 3 on the Hot 100. You may argue, “What’s the big deal? Bieber and Sheeran are actually raising the visibility of these styles.” And while that may be true from a numbers standpoint, “Essence” was already a landmark moment for Afropop before Bieber, and drill was a worldwide phenomenon before Sheeran. Neither needed a boost.

But of the two awkward collaborations, the Ed Sheeran remix, which features two of UK drill’s biggest current stars, Tion Wayne and Central Cee, is by far the weirdest. Not because this is the first time Sheeran has strayed outside of big-budget pop—he has a documented history with reggae—but because it feels like a parody that doesn’t realize it’s a parody.

Ever since it started in Chicago in the early 2010s, drill has been praised for the creative ways in which its many stars have built on trap, and criticized (sometimes unfairly) for amplifying neighborhood tensions. It went on to spawn similar scenes throughout the world, from Brooklyn to Ghana to the UK. It has often struggled to break through on a mainstream scale, as the powers that be have fought against it—Chicago’s Chief Keef can’t perform in his own city, Brooklyn’s drill stars have had to go through hoops to put on hometown shows, and the UK’s war against the subgenre has been highly publicized (most recently, rising London star Digga D wasn’t able to do an interview for his first magazine cover story).

So, given all this thorny history, it is really freaking weird to see Ed Sheeran mug in this “Bad Habits” remix clip with an “aw shucks” smile on his face, like he’s a fan who just won a make-a-drill-video contest! It’s even stranger once you watch the whole behind-the-scenes visual—it’s supposed to be funny and sweet, but it’ll probably just make you cringe. Here are six lowlights:

Not all recent drill developments have to do with regrettable music industry shenanigans. Since the subgenre began to ripple through New York in the mid 2010s, its home base has been Brooklyn. But in the last year or so, in the wake of the devastating murder of Pop Smoke, the scene has struggled to power ahead. There has been a clear lack of creativity for some time now, even as notable rappers like Bizzy Banks and 26AR have come into their own, and Sheff G and Sleepy Hallow have experienced star turns. But as of late, New York’s drill scene has gotten a jolt of energy through a wave of charismatic rappers from the Bronx.

Up in the BX, flows filled with the type of headbanging rage that is usually looked down upon outside of a football field are being laid over a mix of both brutish and soft, sample-based beats. Unlike the approach popularized by Pop, where flashiness outweighed violence, Bronx drill is straight up ruthless. These guys could care less about fashion, or expensive cars, or anything that doesn’t pertain to their neighborhoods. Yet, like most drill scenes, this one is at risk of being stifled by beef, threats, and diss tracks. Thankfully, so far the main appeal has been the music, which has forced the city to reconsider if its most exciting drill hotspot has relocated uptown. Here are a few notable tracks:

Kay Flock is Bronx drill’s biggest name so far. He’s had a hand in the scene’s signature posse cuts along with out-of-borough collabs with premier drill rappers in Brooklyn and Harlem, and he has an ability to hold his own on solo records. Dive deep enough into the scene and Kay Flock leaks may become a part of your daily regimen. His most recent single, “Is Ya Ready,” might be his best yet; his raspy flow is unforgettable, his barking energy contagious.

DThang’s light, almost childlike voice is starkly different from the gruff, been-through-some-shit vocals that are everywhere in the Bronx. But it also gives his songs a distinct breeziness—despite the fact that he’s vividly recounting hopelessly bleak local chaos.

Dougie B is the wildcard. He doesn’t have many official solo tracks to his name yet, but he’s quickly become the go-to mercenary for flipping posse cuts like “Brotherly Love” into mayhem.

Just when I thought sample-based drill songs were getting played out, B Lovee dropped “IYKYK.” With a blood-boiling delivery, he lays down an endless onslaught of mean-spirited one-liners on a sweet Wayne Wonder sample. It may very well end up as the song that alerts the entire city and beyond that Bronx drill has arrived.

Earlier this year, Houston rapper Monaleo put out “Beating Down Yo Block,” where she verbally ambushed all of the dudes who had been playing with her feelings over a sample of YungStar’s “Knocking Pictures Off Da Wall”: “We toss niggas around, we treat these niggas like they bean bags.” “Suck It Up,” her latest single, switches the target of her wrath from hopeless exes to girls whom she has no respect for. “Took her baby daddy accidentally, now she mad at me/But I’ma give him back so I can put her out her agony,” she raps, sounding like the biggest bully since Regina George. Even the outro is some supervillain shit: “Fuck you, hoe, and stop calling that nigga phone while we’re together,” she continues. “He busy, bitch!”

Navy Blue largely came into his own as a rapper with releases that came out during the pandemic, and he has only played a few live shows thus far. So his set last Saturday outside of streetwear store The Good Company in Manhattan’s Lower East Side felt special. Fans and rap peers flocked around his humble sidewalk setup, and eventually the crowd grew so large that it stretched out into the street and made cars honk in frustration. For someone with such little experience performing live, Navy Blue seemed comfortable once the warm loops dropped and he was able to shut his eyes and let the words flow out. Though he doesn’t yet have the commanding and hypnotic stage presence of fellow New York underground hero MIKE, who took the mic after him, you can tell it’s a skill that is rounding out.

Memphis’ rich rap history has influenced countless rappers, and Cootie, who’s from Blytheville, Arkansas, about an hour away, is no exception. He avoids the dominant influence of the mid-’90s underground era of Three 6 Mafia, choosing instead to draw from the well of Project Pat’s boom in the late ’90s and early 2000s. His new single “On the House” takes its structure from Pat’s timeless “Blunt to My Lips,” updating it with thudding drum patterns. Similar to the Memphis star, Cootie raps in a way that makes every line feel like it should be chanted by a football team gathered in a huddle. Yet despite the heavy inspiration, Cootie’s verses display a playfulness—especially when he pants like a disturbingly horny cartoon character—that could only belong to him.

Honey Sweeter Than Blood, the new joint album from New Jersey’s Da$h and D.C.’s ANKHLEJOHN, works because their respective dirty East Coast flows suit each other. Even so, the project’s solo tracks have been my early favorites. On “Diabolique,” Da$h’s raspy delivery sounds just right over the misty LOOK DAMIEN! production as he gets off his slick shit talk, usually punctuated by a pop culture reference (“I wear the belt around my body like I’m Triple H”). Then, on “Dipset Reunion,” ANKHLEJOHN sounds like he’s rapping with a mean scowl on his face, and his dense verses and fleeting thoughts melt into a beat that’s uncharacteristically warm. Together, these tracks make a nice one-two punch.

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Let’s hope that Fat Joe has a better jumper than his friend, confidant, and business partner DJ Khaled.

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