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Ice Spice is carrying on drill’s mainstream movement

2022 might be drill’s most prominent year since it’s inception in the early 2010’s.

What started as a grassroots Chicago sound soon began creeping its way into the mainstream — with Chief Keef charting on Billboard as early as 2012 — as well as embedding itself into rap music’s ever-developing formula.

Whether you consider it musical development or just the pendulum of trends swinging, drill music and culture was seeping itself into what rap would be known and judged as.

Fast forward a decade and drill has spawned its own variants both domestically and worldwide — from New York and the New Jersey to the U.K and even Australia. You can be the judge of who’s appropriating and who’s not, but there is clearly far-reaching appeal for this once underground subgenre. When Alicia Keys is singing on a drill beat, anything’s possible.

At the same time though, it makes it harder to stand out than ever before. Central Cee found his funky, self-aware beat with “Doja” and Kay Flock proved sample drill/Bronx drill can take over the sound waves and “Shake It” with a Cardi B feature to boot.

Just as summer was seemingly coming to an end, another Bronx rapper came into the mix. With no Lyrical Lemonade video or a chart-topper and Grammy winner as a feature, Ice Spice effortlessly hurdled herself towards the front of the conversation of the best new rappers of the year with a song so catchy and viral, it spawned its own titular slang.

Munch” finds the 22-year-old Bronx rapper in a bag of her own, as she contrasts the song’s grim drill melody, rapid hi-hats and kick patterns with a laid back cadence and soothing timbre — sprinkling some fresh wordplay on top. Instead of relying on whatever intermittent tonal trend was hot, Ice Spice made a song that — retrospectively — felt necessary for drill’s current moment.

Drill was birthed under circumstances that wouldn’t have produced the same effect had it come from expensive studios and record labels. The corporatization of the subgenre is a clear caveat of its success, just as it’s a stark contrast to its foundational, underprivileged grounds. While drill has some gas left in its mainstream tank, Ice Spice is fueling it with a distinctive style and approach that doesn’t jeopardize the sub-genre’s humbler beginnings.

Working directly and exclusively with producer RIOTUSA, Ice Spice is tuned into the consistency of her sound, a trademark of the drill genre reaching back to the days of Chief Keef and DJ Kenn. Even her On The Radar freestyle was produced by RIOTUSA, as his bouncy drill production gives Ice Spice as much freedom as it does direction. While her producer may have been on the beat making grind for over half of a decade, Ice Spice only started rapping in 2021, making her comfortability on tracks like “Munch” and “Name of Love” all the more impressive. 

Just being a talented, charismatic artist doesn’t mean you’ll pop off, so what triggered the spark? Well, she gained the coveted co-sign of all co-signs from Mr. OVO himself. Drake’s Instagram endorsement — and the subsequent hangout that occurred — immediately sparked debates ranging from Champagne Papi’s intentions to whether Ice Spice was worthy of his envied stamp of approval. The latter is where things got messier than usual, as my TikTok For You Page was jam-packed with reaction channels showing their head-scratching disdain for “Munch” — with many insinuating that Drake’s helping hand didn’t have much to do with her music.

Seeing this kind of impertinent discourse is always disappointing, but never surprising given the kinds of reactions and comments that fuel social media algorithms. But even the negativity snowballs alongside all the other trends and tweets surrounding the song, perpetually bumping Ice Spice’s notability amongst the masses and doubling-down on just how big “Munch” can get.

It is almost ironic seeing such polarizing reactions, as in the midst of online vitriol came the announcement of Ice Spice supporting B-Lovee on his “CourtLandt Baby Tour.” Live performing is often the true test of an artist’s long term success, as dealing with an uninterested audience, getting the crowd hype, and carving a performative niche for yourself is nothing to scoff at. However, this could just be another hurdle that Ice Spice seamlessly surpasses.

Keeping a performative consistency is probably on her radar anyway, given how harmoniously the production and vocals cleverly work in tandem as much as they satisfyingly oppose each other. Ice Spice has artistically proven her mainstream potential with just six songs in her discography, but doesn’t need a huge budget to get that anyway.

Hell, I don’t think she needed the co-signs. The misconception of co-signs always being a net positive for an artist lies nestled within the spectacle of a celebrity publicly enjoying your work. In other words, it isn’t handout. It’s as much an obstacle as it is an opportunity, having to deliver on the promptly raised expectations and impressions.

The bar is continuously being raised for Ice Spice, but her atypical and versatile delivery, layers of invigorating bravado and committed artist-producer relationship means that her career is just getting started.

It’s not like drill needed saving, but rather someone to strip away the tightened corporate structure that fastens any and all popular subgenres in hip-hop.

Check out more Ice Spice below!