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The Rise of Drill Music in Chicago

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Drill music originated on the streets of Chicago in the late 2000s and early 2010s. What started as a hyper-local underground genre has since blown up worldwide. Five artists who helped put Chicago drill music on the map globally are King Von, Booka600, Memo600, G Herbo, and Lil Baby. While their styles differ, all five rappers came up battling the same streets that birthed drill and each left an indelible mark on the genre.

King Von (1994-2020)

Born Dayvon Bennett, King Von was poised for superstardom before his untimely death in 2020. Originally from the O’Block area on Chicago’s South Side, Von came up in the trenches and his gritty lyrics reflected the harsh realities he witnessed. He started rapping in his late teens and quickly gained buzz locally for tracks like “Crazy Story.” Von’s raw storytelling style made him a favorite of Chicago drill fans.

In 2017, Von was sentenced to prison on an assault charge but used his time behind bars to hone his craft. Upon his release in 2019, he dropped his breakout mixtape Grandson, Vol. 1 which took off thanks to tracks like “Took Her To The O.” The mixtape showed Von’s evolution as an artist – he maintained his street credibility while demonstrating more refined lyricism and melodic sensibilities.

Von followed Grandson, Vol. 1 with Levon James in 2020. The project further cemented his star potential, with singles “All These N****s” and “Crazy Story 2.0” racking up millions of views on YouTube. Tragically, Von was shot and killed during an altercation in Atlanta just days after Levon James dropped. His death sent shockwaves through the drill scene and beyond. At just 26 years old, Von left behind a legacy as one of the most gifted storytellers Chicago drill had ever seen.

Booka600

Booka600, born Ricardo Valdez, hails from the 600 block of South Justine Street in Chicago – the same neighborhood as fellow drill rappers Chief Keef, Lil Durk, and Fredo Santana. Booka started making noise in the drill scene in the early 2010s alongside close friend and fellow 600 member LA Capone, who sadly passed away in 2018.

Booka’s gritty delivery and vivid portrayals of street life resonated with Chicago listeners. Early mixtapes like Finally Rollin 2 highlighted Booka’s knack for catchy hooks and storytelling focused on gang politics, violence, and the daily struggles of his neighborhood. Songs like “Exposing Me” and “In My City” became local anthems.

While Booka hasn’t attained mainstream success like some of his peers, within the drill scene he’s long been considered one of the most authentic voices representing the 600. Even after other 600 members like LA Capone and Lil Durk broke through, Booka stayed true to his roots and continued putting out raw, street-level music. Mixtapes like The Reaper’s Child solidified his reputation as one of Chicago’s most consistent drill rappers.

Today Booka remains an influential figure in his neighborhood and continues pushing the 600 brand through music, collaborations, and outreach within his community. As one of the early pioneers of the Chicago drill sound, Booka600 helped put the 600 block on the map musically.

Memo600

Like Booka600, Memo600 is a founding member of Chicago’s notorious 600 Bloc gang. Born Jamell Demons, Memo came up alongside Booka and other early 600 members in the late 2000s/early 2010s. He started rapping as a teenager and quickly rose through the ranks as one of the most prominent voices representing the 600 scene.

Early mixtapes like Still Trappin demonstrated Memo’s raw storytelling abilities focused on gang life, violence, and the streets. Tracks like “Exposing Me Pt. 2” and “600Bitch” became local anthems. Memo’s gruff delivery and vivid portrayals of the gang lifestyle resonated deeply with Chicago drill fans.

In addition to his solo work, Memo collaborated heavily with peers like LA Capone, Lil Durk, and Booka600, further cementing the 600 brand. Even after facing legal troubles and prison time on gun charges in 2013, Memo remained dedicated to his craft and continued putting out mixtapes from behind bars like Still Trappin 2.

Today Memo is seen as one of the original founders who helped put both the 600 brand and Chicago drill scene on the map during the genre’s formative years in the late 2000s/early 2010s. Through loyalty to his roots and peers, Memo600 solidified his place in drill history as one of the scene’s most authentic voices.

G Herbo

Born Herbert Randall Wright III, G Herbo grew up in Chicago’s South Side and was immersed in drill music from a young age. However, Herbo set himself apart early by demonstrating a versatile flow that encompassed more than just gritty street narratives.

In his formative years, Herbo dropped acclaimed mixtapes like Welcome to Fazoland and Ballin Like I’m Kobe that showed off his dynamic delivery over both melodic and hard-hitting beats. Songs like “Kill Shit” and “PTSD” paid homage to his roots while expanding drill’s boundaries sonically. This helped Herbo attract a wider audience beyond just local Chicago fans.

In the late 2010s, Herbo broke through to the mainstream with the platinum-selling album Humble Beast. Led by the massive hit “PTSD” featuring Chance The Rapper, the album highlighted Herbo’s ability to balance street cred with widespread commercial appeal. It cemented his status as one of the first Chicago drill rappers to truly crossover nationally.

Even as he’s achieved success, Herbo has remained dedicated to representing Chicago and uplifting his peers. Through various non-profit ventures, he strives to provide opportunities for underserved youth in his city. With a versatile flow and the ability to appeal to multiple audiences, G Herbo helped expand drill music beyond the streets and introduce the genre to a mainstream crowd.

Lil Baby

While Lil Baby isn’t directly from Chicago, he’s been a hugely influential figure in the evolution of drill’s widespread popularity in the late 2010s. Born Dominique Armani Jones, Lil Baby grew up in Atlanta and was immersed in the city’s thriving hip-hop scene from a young age.

Initially making a name for himself locally with mixtapes like Perfect Timing, Lil Baby’s raw street narratives and melodic yet hard-hitting style was directly influenced by emerging drill scenes in both Chicago and the UK. Tracks like “Freestyle” and “Yes Indeed” with Drake showed Baby’s knack for catchy storytelling.

The massive success of his 2019 album My Turn cemented Lil Baby as not just one of hip-hop’s biggest stars, but also one of the key figures who helped bring elements of Chicago drill such as aggressive flows and ominous, minimalist beats to the mainstream. Hits like “Woah” and “Sum 2 Prove” incorporated drill influences while still appealing to broad audiences.

Baby’s co-signs and collaborations with major Chicago drill artists like Lil Durk have also helped further expose new audiences to the genre. Through his dynamic blend of street narratives and melodic sensibilities, Lil Baby played a pivotal role in drill’s evolution from an underground local scene into a dominant force in mainstream hip-hop.

Conclusion

While Chicago drill music originated in the late 2000s on the streets of the city’s most turbulent neighborhoods, artists like King Von, Booka600, Memo600, G Herbo, and Lil Baby helped propel the genre to new heights and broader audiences over the following decade. Each brought authenticity and raw talent that expanded drill’s sonic and thematic boundaries in their own way.

From King Von’s gripping storytelling to Booka600 and Memo600’s founding 600 contributions, these artists cemented drill’s roots during its formative years. G Herbo then helped broaden appeal while maintaining street credibility. Lil Baby blended drill’s grit with commercial-level hits, exposing new fans worldwide.

Together, these five trailblazers left an indelible mark on both Chicago drill specifically and the direction of hip-hop as a whole. They gave rise to a movement that continues evolving today through new artists worldwide carrying on the torch first lit in the streets and studios that birthed one of music’s most impactful genres.

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