Originally published for Vulture on September 18th, 2020.


2020 commenced with a great loss in New York’s robust contemporary hip-hop scene: the murder of Canarsie’s prodigal son and prince of Brooklyn drill, Pop Smoke, at just 20 years old. His sudden passing left an indelible vacancy in the city. The loss of one of the booming voices of the New York rap community — whose meteoric career was cut short by a violent end — cratered the community and felt like an overwhelming defeat for one of rap’s newest waves in the city.

However, even a cursory look at the current musical landscape in New York would reveal that there is no dearth of emerging talent across the five boroughs — and not all of it is concentrated in drill. Several niches have developed over the past few years, each with their own distinctive sound. Young talented artists are branching out and blazing trails within the new school, as much of the rest of the country dismissively boxes them in as simply trying to duplicate the sounds of the South. From the small empires being built out of Highbridge to the mantles being passed down in Canarsie, artists are beginning to redefine the soundscapes of New York City — and they are as robust as ever.

The Rise of Brooklyn Drill

While Brooklyn drill might have lost Pop Smoke’s distinctive rumble, several other major players are very much alive and kicking.

Fivio Foreign

Age: 30

Hometown: East Flatbush, Brooklyn

The Thing He’s Known For: As one of the elder statesmen in the drill scene, Fivio’s phonic buoyancy has become his signature: riotous ad-libs and onomatopoeia over AXL Beats’s sweeping and spine-chilling production. Growing up in the same neighborhood as GS9 and the same floor as Rowdy Rebel gave him a front-row seat to the rise of the subgenre. He has built relationships with many of his peers along the way, most notably with Pop Smoke; the frequent collaborators released the popular tracks “Sweetheart,” and the posthumous track “Showin Off Pt. 2.” No matter if he’s on a feature with Drake or Dream Doll, Fivio has made it clear that every studio session of his is a party where he aims to encapsulate his organic kinetic energy and translate that onto the track. He is looking to have a fun time.

That One Song You Might Know: “Big Drip” took Brooklyn by storm in the second half of 2019, quickly becoming a strong contender for New York’s song of the summer. By the next summer, the phrase “Demon Time” would not only become became part of Fivio’s signature lexicon but also a ubiquitous quarantine phrase as droves of enterprising women found eager platforms on Intagram Live — as the song goes, “I fell in love with a lit bitch” — for an entirely different reason.

22Gz

Age: 22

Hometown: Flatbush, Brooklyn

The Thing He’s Known For: 22Gz came onto the scene in 2016 with the breakout track “Suburban” — the first track that used UK producer AXL Beats and his signature booming, refracted bass to underscore 22’s violently crisp lyricism. While the foundations of drill have been building in Brooklyn for years, 22 was one of the first to put all of the moving pieces together, collaborating with UK beat-makers and introducing a dance move known as the “Blixky Twirl” that has become ingrained into the DNA of the drill scene. Since then, he has dropped projects that have continued to showcase his sharp and antagonistic skill set, with tracks like “Sniper Gang Freestyle” and “Suburban, Pt 2.”

That One Song You Might Know: Suburban Pt. 2,” where the track opens: “hoodie on, mask on/strap drawn, tried to run, he ain’t get that far.” The song maximizes the negative space in the beat and the bars to animate the live-wire tension of someone settling a score.

Smoove’L

Age: 20

Hometown: Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn

The Thing He’s Known For: While fan bases across the country were excited when Travis Scott paired up with Pop Smoke for the chart-topping hit “Gatti,” locals recognized the AXL Beats and 808 Melo co-produced beat immediately. Smoove’L had already reached local notoriety with his anthem “New Apollos” and its infectious crooning introduction, reaching 1 million hits before getting pulled off of YouTube for copyright infringement after the beat was acquired by Scott. This led to conflict between Smoove’L, Pop Smoke, and Casanova: His track with Casanova, “Demons & Devils,”was promptly responded to by Pop with the song “Christopher Walking.”

That One Song You Might Know: New Apollos,” where he subverts the conventions of the ominous bass that anchors Brooklyn drill by adding a melodic framework to it.

Sheff G

Age: 21

Hometown: Flatbush, Brooklyn

The Thing He’s Known For: Despite his young age, Sheff G is in many ways considered one of Brooklyn drill’s OGs, helping mold the sound with songs such as “No Surburban” that have since become foundational to the subgenre. In the three years since, Sheff has grown in stature, frame, and repute — and has expanded his sonic skill set to match his brand, bucking the trendy UK-inflected production sounds in favor of the more nuanced work of Great John and Ayy Walker, allowing his lyrical dexterity to be the main attraction.

That One Song You Might Know: We Getting Money,” an Ayy Walker production that makes clever use of Hiromi Ōta’s Japanese pop classic “Akai High Heel” to craft the bombastic hit.

Sleepy Hallow

Age: 20

Hometown: Flatbush, Brooklyn

The Thing He’s Known For: As Sheff G’s right-hand man, Sleepy Hallow has been his frequent collaborator, beginning with the “Panic” series Parts 1-4 and continuing with Flatbush favorites such as “Molly” and “Water.” It was “Deep End Freestyle,” however, that broke him out into his own mold on his project Sleepy Hallow Presents: Sleepy Hallow For President.

That One Song You Might Know: Deep End Freestyle, a no-hook track constructed around the looped vocals of soul singer Fousheé which crossed over into TikTok notoriety.

Rah Swish

Age: 22

Hometown: Canarsie, Brooklyn

The Thing He’s Known For: A close friend of Pop Smoke’s and collaborator who has been there since the beginning of his rap career, he has proceeded to carry the torch of the Woo legacy in his wake, with tracks that have made waves in the streets such as “Woo Forever” and “Who Run the City.”  

That One Song You Might Know: “Who Run the City,” an anthemic track filmed in front of the mural of Pop Smoke that was originally painted on 82nd Street and Flatlands Avenue in Canarsie.

The Up-and-Comers

Drill is far from the only sound coming out of the city — there are other artists just starting to carve out their own niche to overwhelmingly positive feedback.

Slayter

Age: 23

Hometown: Dyckman, NY

The Thing He’s Known For: While Dyckman’s soundscape is frequently associated with the sounds of merengue, bachata, and dembow — think Meek Mill’s “Uptown Vibes” — Puerto Rico native Slayter is here to upend all of that, bringing his steely grit that’s more often associated with his neighbors in the Bronx. His latest project, World Got Me Fucked Up, Vol 1., features appearances from powerhouses such as Benny the Butcher, Smoke DZA, 22Gz, and Sada Baby.

That One Song You Might Know: Mhm,” an ominous and frenetic track with production reminiscent of the atmospheric sounds of navigating the aboveground 1 train late at night.

Ron Suno

Age: 20

Hometown: Co-Op City, the Bronx

The Thing He’s Known For: Rapper Blueface famously said that Instagram comedians shouldn’t try to crossover into the rap lane. He would end up eating those words just a few months later, jumping on the remix of Ron Suno’s wildly popular track, “Pinnochio.” Suno has continued to maintain his comedic social media presence while putting out new music, following up “Pinnochio” with the equally popular “Spiderman”and landing himself a Funk Flex freestyle slot. Check out his project Swag Like Mike. 

 That One Song You Might Know: Pinnochio, which became a dance craze that crossed over into TikTok fame.

Jay Critch

Age: 23

Hometown: Clinton Hill, Brooklyn

The Thing He’s Known For: Building highly anticipated buzz for his mixtape Hood Favorite with tracks such as Thousand WaysFashion and Adlibs, Critch has continued to rise in cultural resonance, with hits such as “Dreams In A Wraith.” Critch has stood out for his ability to comfortably phase in and out of melody and straight to your neck bars, getting the cosigns of French Montana and Fabulous on his track “Try It,” the latter of whom he came up idolizing.

That One Song You Might Know: Ego,”a bombastic song with a lengthy hook that leaked and got play on Hot97 before it was an official track.

The Around the Way Girls

It has been a landmark year for women in rap, with newcomers like Megan Thee Stallion making their mark and established legend Nicki Minaj finally grabbing hold of the elusive white whale that was a No. 1 hit. Locally, women have also been preparing for the spotlight. The few below are just some of the immensely skilled women hard at work within the five boroughs.

Young M.A

Age: 28

Hometown: East New York, Brooklyn

The Thing She’s Known For: Young M.A stunned the world with her fury, grief, and technique in her 2014 “Chiraq” freestyle.Since then, she’s gone on to have a chart-topping hit with “OOOUUU,” and features and freestyles that continue to showcase the depth of her skill as an unprecedented and openly queer rapper.

That One Song You Might Know: BIG,”where she stays in the pocket of Mike Zombie’s “Started From the Bottom” style minimalist production — dynamic drum kits over more muted ambient piano sounds — while making open overtures about her sexual and material desires.

Princess Nokia

Age: 28

Hometown: Harlem, NY

The Thing She’s Known For: A theater kid who split her life between Harlem and the Lower East Side, Nokia’s music has touched different eras and styles. But whether it’s the identity-forward anthems of “Brujas,” and “Tomboy,” from 1992 Deluxe, the emo detour of A Girl Cried Red, or the more stripped down, New Orleans jazz horns–dominant “Sugar Honey Iced Tea,” the polymorphic artist’s bars are always consistent.

That One Song You Might Know: “I Like Him,”a luxurious and sassy track reveling in Nokia’s brattier side.

DonMonique

Age: 24

Hometown: Brooklyn

The Thing She’s Known For: Take the genre-blending best elements of Azealia Banks’s style, and bbymutha’s knack for creating fluid rhyme schemes that wrap themselves around the beat and encase them in a husky tone and swag slightly reminiscent of Foxy Brown, and you get DonMonique, who broke onto the scene in 2015 with the synth-infused minimalist track “Pilates.” After a three-year hiatus, she returned to music, dropping her Black Kate Moss project, and most recently interpolated Beyonce’s hook from her classic B’day track in her new single “Giving Body.”

That One Song You Might Know: “Pilates,” the sultry reference to illicit substances with various young white models as the product.

Dream Doll

Age: 28

Hometown: Edenwald Houses, The Bronx

The Thing She’s Known For: Since initially coming into notoriety on the Bad Girls Club, Dream Doll has gone full force ahead, initially breaking into music with “Everything Nice,” a coquettish, saccharine trap tune that quickly became infectious. Since then, she has proved her chops time and again — after an impressive showing in a diss to current industry persona non grata Tory Lanez, she stepped up again in the Hitmaka’s “Thot Box (Remix)” and Bandhunta Izzy’s “Vibes,” showcasing her ability to bring uptown grit and energy to her delivery and flow while still maintaining her trademark babydoll sex appeal.

That One Song You Might Know: Thot Box (Remix),” where Dream Doll held her own against Young M. A, Dreezy, Mulatto, and Chinese Kitty.

Quay Dash

Age: 28

Hometown: The Bronx

The Thing She’s Known For: Quay’s debut project, Transphobic, is as skillful as it is subversive with hard-hitting rhymes that push boundaries and reframe sex positivity within the framework of transinclusivity — with the distinctive drawl of a New Yorker. Her biggest single, “Queen of this Shit,” has been added to HBO Series Euphoria’s season one soundtrack and continues to showcase her versatility with a club rap track.

That One Song You Might Know: Decline Him,”her largest hit off of Transphobic, filled with delightfully aggressive couplets.

Maliibu Mitch

Age: 29

Hometown: The South Bronx

The Thing She’s Known For: With her distinctive, husky timbre, Maliibu gained local recognition with songs “Give Her Some Money” and “The Count” — the latter earning her fast comparisons to lyrical powerhouse Foxy Brown. Her interplay between her more combative and seductress personas make a potent combination for her artistry, and put her on Nicki Minaj’s radar early on.

That One Song You Might Know: Give Her Some Money,”which made its TV premiere on season 3 of Insecure.

Melii

Age: 23

Hometown: Harlem

The Thing She’s Known For: When everyone was doing freestyles over “Bodak Yellow” in 2017, Melii’s blend of tender vocals and fearless bars quickly made her a viral star. Not long after, the Dominican-American followed up with the bilingual track “Icey,”showcasing her dexterity at seamlessly easing in and out between the two modalities.

That One Song You Might Know: HML” featuring A Boogie wit da Hoodie, an uptown collab that showcases the two crooners at their best.

The Boys of Highbridge

The notoriously treacherous steps on 1165 Shakespeare Avenue became ground zero for a new tourist spot in 2019: thanks to the Oscar-winning film Joker’sacclaimed dance scene on that very flight of stairs, fans came in droves to capture themselves in a corner of the South Bronx rarely tread upon by outsiders, just on the other side of Yankee Stadium. That same neighborhood, Highbridge, is responsible for some of the biggest sounds coming out of the city right now. No discussion of the current sounds of New York hip-hop is complete without covering the talent coming out of Highbridge the Label.

A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie

Age: 24

Hometown: Highbridge, the Bronx

The Thing He’s Known For: Since coming on the scene with his debut mixtape Artist in 2016, A Boogie has remained at the forefront of the charts, interweaving his melodic stylings into hits such as “My Shit,” “Look Back At It,” “Swerving,” and “Drowning,” pulling musical references from everywhere from Craig David to Michael Jackson. Since then, he has also expanded his imprint, Highbridge the Label, with artists Don Q and Trap Manny, and cleared a path for others to follow in his lead, pulling musical references from everywhere from Craig David to Michael Jackson.

That One Song You Might Know: Startender,” a three-minute smash and follow-up to “Drowning” for his sophomore album, layered with local N.Y. references (“I’m feeling like I’m Biggavelli”). It cemented A Boogie’s ability to continue to create hits for his core fanbase as he released bigger hits like “Look Back At It.”

Don Q

Age: 30

Hometown: Highbridge, The Bronx

The Thing He’s Known For: Signing onto Highbridge the Label with A Boogie, Don Q has operated as the bully counterpart, having frequently put out joint tracks on each other’s projects with A Boogie’s melodic formula serving as symbiotic complement to Don’s classic approach to a hot 16. Having had his lyricism compared to some of the early days of the LOX, Don got attention for his rhyme schemes during a Funkmaster Flex freestyle that went viral; Don also infamously also went after Tory Lanez in 2019.

That One Song You Might Know: “Bag On Me,” a song about getting to the money with grand theft auto concept music video.

The Rap Songbirds

The line between rapping and singing is blurrier than ever in 2020, with some of rap’s biggest artists setting a hot 16 to a harmony.

Lil Tjay

Age: 19

Hometown: The Bronx

The Thing He’s Known For: Many people heard Tjay for the first time on Polo G’s 2019 hit, “Pop Out.” In the short time since, his trajectory has been an astronomical climb, with features on Pop Smoke’s “War” (and later having him and Fivio on his own track, “Zoo York”) and his follow-up tracks, “F.N.” and “Brothers.” Declaring himself the King of New York, he has drawn comparisons to his fellow Bronxite, A Boogie, which he has bristled at.

That One Song You Might Know: ”Brothers,” a somber three-and-a-half minute journey through the trials and tribulations in TJay’s life in the South Bronx prior to becoming a breakout star.

Lil Tecca

Age: 18

Hometown: Springfield Gardens, Queens

The Thing He’s Known For: With huge hits such as “My Time,” “Love Me,” and “Count Me Out” placing Lil Tecca on the map in 2019, as well as his debut album, out today, the young Jamaican-American artist’s style of compelling YA fantasy narrative storytelling set to a melody draws influences from everywhere from Lil Wayne to Lil Durk. Having also been compared to A Boogie, he welcomes the association, ultimately joining forces with him on the track “Somebody.”

That One Song You Might Know: Ransom,” which peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard charts.

J.I.

Age: 18

Hometown: Crown Heights, Brooklyn

The Thing He’s Known For: Hip-hop’s newest romantic troubadour, J.I. splashed onto the scene with wildly popular songs like “Love Scars,” “Used To,” and “On Me.” His capability of speaking to heartbreak and relationships at such a young age got the attention of none other than Drake himself, who has featured a few of his songs on his Instagram Live sessions.

That One Song You Might Know: Need Me,” a crooning tune whose nostalgic use of Mya’s “Best of Me (Remix)” as a sample belies the more intense nature of the lyrics.

Jay Gwuapo

Age: 21

Hometown: East New York, Brooklyn

The Thing He’s Known For: Jay Gwuapo is infamously known as the person who was responsible for getting Pop Smoke into his first studio session and out into the world. He is also a dynamic talent himself — his project From Nothing Pt. 1 landed in 2019 and took on a life of its own, establishing his place amongst the cannon of other crooners throughout the city.

That One Song You Might Know: Downbad,”his biggest hit off of From Nothing Pt. 1.

Honorable Mentions

Casanova

Age: 33

Hometown: Flatbush, Brooklyn

The Thing He’s Known For: An artist with a strong run of street anthems, you can go anywhere from “Set Tripping” to “Don’t Run (Remix)” and “So Brooklyn” to get a feel for the local hits that gained him notoriety —but if you ask him now, he’ll tell you that he has calmed down considerably from his earlier tracks.

Sheck Wes

Age: 22

Hometown: Harlem, NY

The Thing He’s Known For: Taking over moshpits and clubs around the country with his stormy 2018 hit “Mo Bamba” followed by “LiveSheckWes Die SheckWes” off of his freshman project, Mudboy. His precipitous rise in the industry was stymied, however, by allegations that he was physically abusive to former partner Justine Skye.

Fetty Luciano

Age: 24

Hometown: East Flatbush, Brooklyn

The Thing He’s Known For: Rowdy’s brother and the hidden gem of GS9, the track “Double It” showcases his full range of potential and what he’s absorbed while watching his older brother and friends coming up in the game.

Correction, September 29: This piece previously referred to J.I. by his former name, “J.I. the Prince of NY.” He has since has shortened his name, and we have updated the post to reflect the change.

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