Murders of 2 aspiring New York rappers spark debate over controversial rap genre

@chii_tercero via Instagram

(NEW YORK) — The deaths of two aspiring young rappers last week have reignited the debate over drill music, a popular rap subgenre, and its connection to violence.

Jayquan McKenley, an 18-year-old aspiring rapper from the Bronx known as CHII WVTTZ, was shot and killed Sunday morning as he left a recording studio in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant.

McKenley was shot in the chest, police said, and was transferred to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

His death came days after Tahjay Dobson, 22, known as rapper Tdott Woo, was shot and killed outside his home in the Canarsie neighborhood on Tuesday hours after signing a record deal.

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An NYPD spokesperson told ABC News Thursday that no arrests have been made in either case and investigations are continuing. Major crime in New York increased by 38.5% from January 2021 to January 2022, according to NYPD statistics.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who shared McKenley’s story at a press conference on Thursday, addressed the issue of gun violence in the drill community and the proliferation of guns in the city during of an interview with reporters on Friday.

Adams said he was set to meet with “very well-known rappers” to form a coalition of hip-hop artists dedicated to solving the problem.

“We’re going to sit down and really bring the rappers in and show how it’s impacting and killing young people like them,” Adams said, adding he’ll be sharing artist names and date details soon. .

What is exercise music?

Both McKenley and Dobson were part of the Brooklyn Drill music scene – a hip-hop subgenre that started in Chicago and was popularized by Chicago rappers like Chief Keef, Lil Durk, Fredo Santana, King Louie, G Herbo, Lil Bibby and Lil Reese.

Jabari Evans, a professor of race and media who studies urban youth subgenres at the University of South Carolina, told ABC News that the “well-defined sound” of drill music is what sets it apart. makes it unique, and the genre is sonically known for “Singing choirs, dark scents, and a sort of 808 war [drum beats].”

But the violence portrayed in the lyrics and the origins of the genre in Chicago gang culture are what make it controversial.

Erik Nielson, co-author of the 2019 book “Rap on Trial: Race, Lyrics, and Guilt in America,” told ABC News that drill music’s “main connection to violence is artistic and creative” and for boring artists, music is “a way out of the violent neighborhoods they chronicle.”

According to Evans, drill rap emerged in Chicago’s Southside in the early 2010s as Chicago’s version of “gangster music” and centered on “well-defined gang politics”.

“The meaning on the streets of Chicago was that if you did a ‘drill’ it meant you were doing a crime,” he said.

But drill music has “evolved” over the years as it exploded around the world, Evans added, becoming popular in cities from New York to Los Angeles and countries including the UK and the United States. ‘Uganda.

And despite the diversity of lyrics and artists, Evans said the genre still carries the same violent connotation in the media and for law enforcement.

“His music was anything but hopeful”

Over the years, drill artists have been monitored and targeted by law enforcement, with some banned from performing in their own hometowns. But artists have long maintained that their music is a form of self-expression that chronicles the struggles of street life.

Such was the case with McKenley, Mayor Adams said Thursday, as he discussed issues in the city’s social services, criminal justice and school systems that leave young people vulnerable.

“There are thousands of Jayquans in our city right now,” Adams said. “Thousands of children who are homeless and poor, in need of educational support, who are at high risk…we cannot allow thousands of children to lose their lives to abuse and neglect .”

Adams said once he learned about McKenley’s life, “a clear profile emerged of someone who needed help” because he was struggling at school and at home. He was also arrested several times between 2018 and 2021, most recently for attempted murder.

Like other boring music artists, McKenley and Dobson built a following and released their music on social media.

McKenley’s Instagram account has over 27,000 followers and Dobson has over 94,000 followers.

“Like many young men, Jayquan was a budding rapper. ‘Aspiring’ is a word that means hope, but his music was anything but hopeful,” Adams said.

When asked if the murders of McKenley and Dobson could be linked to gang violence, police did not comment.

“You can’t stereotype a whole group”

The Brooklyn drill music scene was brought into the mainstream by artists like Fivio Foreign and the late rapper Pop Smoke, who was one of the biggest stars to popularize Brooklyn drill before being shot on February 19, 2020.

Hot 97’s DJ Drewski, whose legal name is Andrew Loffa, was an early supporter of Pop Smoke and the Brooklyn music scene. He said in a post on his Instagram Stories on Tuesday that while he would continue to play drill music, he would no longer play “diss/gang” music aimed at rival rappers.

“If you fight in the songs, don’t even send it to me!” ” he wrote. “We are losing too many young men and women on the streets!

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez told Fox5NY earlier this week that there have been “a number of shootings in Brooklyn recently that are directly related to exercise.”

“These drill rap videos are killing young people. It’s not that the music causes the violence, but it fuels the desire to fight back,” he said.

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Fivio Foreign, who was friends with TDott Woo, defended the genre in an interview with TMZ on Tuesday, saying, “It’s not the music that kills people, it’s the music that helps the n—– from the hood to get out of the hood.”

But Perry Williams, McKenley’s father, slammed the impact of the drill music scene in an interview with Fox5NY, saying his son faces intense competition as an aspiring rapper.

“Our hip-hop isn’t hip-hop anymore, and now if you don’t exercise, you won’t have a game,” Williams said.

Evans said while “the exercise produced real violence,” artists have a right to express themselves, and each artist has unique motivations.

“We can’t stereotype an entire band based on the genre of music they’ve chosen to participate in,” he said.

There’s a long tradition of artists feuding through their music in hip-hop and it’s possible it “spreads on the streets or in real life,” Nielson said.

But he added that the drill music has become “a convenient boogeyman” for law enforcement – “a lazy, ill-informed narrative” that ignores the “systemic causes of violence in these neighborhoods.”

Evans echoed Nielson, saying “it’s easy to scapegoat exercise,” but “in reality, the situations, spaces, places, and issues that existed in some communities existed long before the ‘exercise”.

In sharing McKenley’s story, Adams addressed those systemic issues, including homelessness and poverty that made the teenager vulnerable.

“To Jayquan’s mom and dad, I want you to say I’m sorry,” Adams said in tears.

He added: “I am sorry that your son was forgotten for so long and taken from you too soon. I’m sorry we betrayed him and so many others like him.

ABC News’ Aaron Katersky contributed to this report.

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