Drill Music of The Eastern Nigeria

2020. The world was held to ransom by Covid-19 but Awada, a suburb in Onitsha, cared less of the pandemic and it’s policies. A walk discovered some unsmiling shirtless boys playing cards on the bonnet of an abandoned car in the unasphalted street. The youngest was about 15 or 16 while the oldest wouldn’t have passed 21. A bluetooth speaker boomed out heavy hip-hop instrumentals beneath a melancholic vocal. Track after track, same vocal rapped without vigour with lyrics themed around money making, recreational drugs and institutionalised fraud. These tracks were from the EP “Hood boy dreams” by JeriQ. These boys are a fraction of JeriQ’s audience scattered within the streets of Eastern Nigeria and beyond.

Few months earlier — February — Brooklyn Drill artiste Pop Smoke had been reportedly shot dead. In the weeks that followed, his song “Dior” trended on Tiktok and peaked on various global music charts and saw many remixes and remakes. The Drill song may have — or may have not — inspired JeriQ into making the project that redefined drill music in Eastern Nigeria.

Drill is a style of trap music that is slower than normal trap and characterised by deadpan and melancholic vocals. The lyricism is inclined towards realism and nihilism defining life in the street. The term “Drill” is said to have been coined from late Chicago rapper, Pac Man’s “It’s a drill” with the word being a street slang for “fight”. Drill music has been associated with being against law and order.

The style of music is sort of localised and relatable to the particular town, city or country of origin hence Brooklyn Drill, Chicago Drill and UK Drill. These are the most popular subgenres of drills. But the style of music isn’t restricted to these. Media brand, Vice made an exposé on the drill style defining the lifestyle of Kumasi, Ghana under the brand name Kumerica (Kumasi-America). Similarly, the brand “Iyoo Cartel” has been putting out the lifestyle of Eastern Nigeria especially Onitsha and Enugu through drill.

The commercial city of Onitsha is characterised by its tenacious residents who are hell-bent to make money by hook or crook. The city births generations of dog-eat-dog residents with little to no social life than the use of recreational drugs to alter consciousness. The Z generation have capitalised on this life — and the trend of advance fee scamming AKA Yahoo sweeping through the country — to express themselves as real as they can. Music. Without a social life and consequent creative industries, these artistes look towards a similar but more creatively progressive Enugu to sell their songs. For decades, even before the conception of hip-hop, Enugu and Onitsha have been known to share pop cultural traits including lifestyle and slangs.

Hip-hop in Eastern Nigeria has been as old as global hip-hop but got it’s breakthrough to national audience in the early 2000s with likes of Enugu-based Mr. Raw, Illbliss and Slow Dogg taking the lead in Igbo rap. With the death of Yoruba rapper Dagrin, a demand for indigenous rap done over trendy instrumentals rose and Olamide capitalised on that for Yoruba while Phyno came through from Enugu with Igbo. Phyno institutionalised the Igbo rap and the new generation looked up to his template to create music. Phyno experimented with every style of hip-hop including trap and drill — one of the first deadpan sounds was “Anam achi kwanu” by Illbliss and Phyno.

A unique voice would rise from the heart of Onitsha with deadpan nihilistic lyrics. He rapped about his city but he wasn’t listened to until he went through to his parents’ state of origin, Enugu. The voice, Zoro created a proto-drill style. There was also another melancholic voice in the region at the time, Bosalin.

Proto-Drill turned to be the unnamed style of rap that would dominate the Eastern Nigerian Igbo rap scene for the last half of the 2010s with Quincy, Tidinz and Romeo Max holding the style. Quincy’s trap-drill include “Men” and “Red Card” while Romeo Max had “FBI” and “Onye Obodo”.

Phyno’s and Zoro’s calls for covers of their laid-back songs “Fuwa Sewa” and “Mbada” respectively saw the discovery of new generation Igbo rappers most of whom had been inclined to trap style in a vice-dominated Onitsha and were schooling or had schooled in Awka and Enugu. This birthed the Eastern Drill style proper. This generation of drill artistes are being lead by the likes of Nuno Zigi and JeriQ. Producer JaySwaarg also owns a major chunk of credits to the development of drill and trap in the region.

As the pandemic and subsequent lockdown swept throw Nigeria, poverty level increased and so did crimes. The atmosphere was as bleak as bleak and then came a bleak song “Remember me” by JeriQ. The cities of Northern Igboland (especially Enugu, Onitsha, Awka) could relate well with the song that gave them motivation to make and save money. “Remember me”, like other songs from JeriQ, bore communicable particles from heroin smokes of the artiste. His audience get high without having to smoke. Secondhand smoke. “Remember me” would go on to become the anthem of the Eastern section of the End SARS protest.

Many members of Gen Z in the region keep on telling their real street stories through laid-back and apathetic lyrics over slow 808s and accompanying hip-hop instruments. Today we have drill-trap artistes Ifex G, BeePee, Shadow, Jaga D Panda, RichPlug, Verroti and numerous more from the region.

VIAChimdi Asika