06 Jun Interview: Carns Hill discusses the future of UK drill music, the scene he helped pioneer
CARNS HILL INTERVIEW – Drill music, like many figments of rap in the UK, has undergone something of a renaissance in the past few years, exemplified by 67 accumulating more YouTube views than any other rap or grime artist in the UK in 2016, raking in over 30 million plays. A decade ago, such an achievement would’ve been laughable.
“Things started taking off when we started doing exclusive CDs. I think my sound took off when me and Youngs Teflon did GMT and I produced the whole CD, back in 2009. After that, it kinda established me because people really enjoyed the CD and started looking at the producers, then they realised it was just me handling the production” recalls Carns, speaking about when things started taking off.
At the start of the decade, there were just a small handful of UK rap videos with over a million views on YouTube, none of them from drill music artists. Nowadays, drill music is some of the most popular, as artists like 67 and Harlem Spartans rack up millions of views with ease. But way before those artists rose to prominence, the likes of Carns Hill, Blade Brown and Youngs Teflon were keeping a flame lit that flirted dangerously with burning out, so I asked Carns what drew him to drill music over all other genres.
“I just like the sound of the music, the heavy 808s, the melodies. When we first initially started, I was suggesting to Tef that we should just spit grime on 808 beats, because there are similarities. But I wasn’t just gonna make American-styled 808 beats, I had to make it on our way, so that’s how that came about. I started realising that our sound was different to what was out at the time.”
OT, released in 2009, was the first of three iconic mixtapes that helped catapult drill music and trap-rap into relevancy. Featuring Youngs Teflon, Blade Brown, Mental K, Skwilla, Fem Fel, Timbar, Young Meth and more, each of those three tapes were the go-to dosages of drill music around that time. Carns Hill was the man to bring it all together, working closely with each artist to create a sound that accurately depicted the unrelenting and violent tales of what goes on in the streets. The end product was strong and as such, these songs soon flooded the memory cards of Sony Ericsson’s on devices all around London.
“I might start a melody, then get a reaction, work on the percussion’s, the 808s and the other sounds and melodies, then go from there, so we end up having an end product we all like, because we all took time in the building of the process”.
If websites are constantly on the hunt for cornerstone content, content that accurately reflects what it is that site does that they are most proud of, then the OT trilogy, which saw instalments released in 2009, 2013 and 2015 respectively, was that cornerstone content drill music in the UK needed. A point of reference for those who were unsure as to what it is or whether it’s worth your time, claims put to the rest by the slick raps of Blade, Tef and others and the identifiable beats of Carns Hill, and his ‘SRG separation confirmed’ ad-lib.
Given the success of the OT series, I asked Carns when we might see an OT 4, to which he replied: “Free Mental. When Mental comes out we’re gonna start working on that. I don’t wanna do an OT without Mental K. It wouldn’t be right. He wasn’t on the first one but came in for the next two and had such an impact. It wouldn’t be right.”
After working with so many artists, including those mentioned on the OT tapes as well as the likes of 67, 86, Potter Payper, Reeko Squeeze and more, it’s fair to say that Carns’ contact list isn’t just filled up with the numbers of local takeaways in the Brixton Hill area.
Family First, his most recent project released on January 29 2017, was a space for Carns to work with all the artists he’s collaborated with over the years, a 23-track offering featuring contributions from 20 different artists. Mixing the old with the new, the tape reminded of his chemistry with old-time collaborators as well as helping to bring more attention to upcoming drill artists like K-Trap, Papi and Nana Dams. “I wanted to get everyone together, to show that we’re all here, we’re still here working” says Carns of the project.
Nowadays, Carns’ resume is there for all to see, offering executive production to iconic tapes, producing huge hits and racking up millions of views online. From the first OT to 67’s siren-sounding hit ‘#WAPS’, released earlier in 2017, Carns has taken a sound nurtured from his bedroom and helped grown an entire genre, so I asked him to shed some light on that process.
“Build your craft, network and make good music. It’s a product that you’re releasing at the end of the day, so as long as the product is good, it doesn’t matter where it’s made. A lot of everyday products we use, we do not know where it’s made, so it’s not really about where it’s made. It’s about how its presented and marketed to you.
Just try to be different to everything’s that going on, if you do that, it’ll just show. If it’s not what everybody’s used to, it’ll stand out. If it’s marketed right and the product has been manufactured correctly, you shouldn’t have an issue.”
The nature of drill music presents issues which makes the process of making great music a path littered with roadblocks, cancelled shows and negative attention. An often relied-upon criticism of this style of rap is that it promotes a negative lifestyle, glorifying violence and glamorising crime. A rebuttal to that claim is that even if you banned every form of drill, the violence and crime you hear about in the music will still continue to happen, but what does a veteran from inside the scene have to say about those criticisms?
“If they promote everything else, from violence to sex to drugs, not just other music, TV, everything, I don’t see why they wouldn’t promote drill. It’s there for you to watch if you wanna watch it. You have a choice, you might wanna watch a violent film, might wanna watch a horror, wanna watch a romantic comedy, it’s up to you. Same with music, you wanna listen to rap, some old school jazz, RnB, whatever, it’s all there, so I don’t see how you can blame someone when it’s optional to listen to it. You’re not being forced to. It’s there and there’s a market for it.”
Carns touched upon the market for drill music, so I asked him how big that market might become: “Music is given to you on your phone, so it’s less about buying. It’s more of a situation where you like an artist, you follow them, go on a next app and look them up then stream it and artists get paid. Game has completely changed, it’s like the wild-west right now.
Labels are obsolete, they’re not needed right now, cos you can distribute your music yourself. Have a following and you won’t need a label. Go and find PR people, go get your booking agent, go get your manager, lawyer, accountant yourself, and you’re good to go. Drill music can go as far as everyone is willing to push it”
If like Carns Hill, those championing the genre manage to grow their sound with a sense of humility and desire to push new talent forward, then the future of drill music in the UK looks very healthy indeed.
All photos by @Zek.Snaps. Find more of his work on Instagram here