A group of lads have gathered for a piss-up at their parents’ house in the luxury inner-city suburb of Hamilton, Brisbane. They’re playing drill on a streaming service. They know all the words and they’re shouting to be heard.
I hear lyrics from the OneFour song, Welcome to Prison. See I’m just tryna make a living lad, and just do me. Next on the playlist is a different drill artist, Jaecy, and they belt out So tired of the life I live from the song What’s Good. Now they’re onto a track by the drill outfit No Money Enterprise and they’re shouting, pull up, pull up in the German as if pulling up in a German car is something standout here.
I’ve been trying to understand who these lads are. I did some shameless Facebook stalking. Their families are wealthy, they’re in the legal profession. The boys went to Anglican Church Grammar School (Churchie) in East Brisbane and the girls to St Margarets Anglican Girls School in Ascot. They’re white, privileged, private school kids. Yet word-for-word, they spit these lyrics as if the lives described in the tracks are their own.
No Money Enterprise hails from Logan City. That place couldn’t be further from Hamilton, economically speaking. The median house price in Logan is $350,000, whereas in Hamilton, it’s in the millions. OneFour are from Mount Druitt in Western Sydney, a suburb featured in the SBS documentary series Struggle Street.
The slang these drill artists use in their lyrics is born and bred on the mean streets and not the dialect you often hear in Hamilton. It comes from shared childhoods under siege, from culturally diverse pressures. The Hamilton crew might be doing a decent impression of the drill artists but it feels like cosplay to me, like dressing up as a gangsta for Halloween.
Do the stories behind the lyrics they know so well even register with them? Do they care? They might just be revelling in the vibe. But I don’t think so. These guys are shouting the words with conviction, like a team song at the footy, like they’re angry about something, or everything. Like they’ve come together because their backs are against the wall. I want to know what they’re angry about or if it’s not personal anger, I want to know who they’re advocating for.
Maybe they’ve just found common threads they relate to. Substance abuse. Anxiety. Depression. Those things happen in Hamilton too. But if not, there’s irony in their situation, spitting mean street rhymes from the comfort of their duck down cribs.
It could also be that I’m thinking too much, that it’s simpler than that, that they’re just rebelling, pissing-off their parents by saying things that shock or letting their swearing rhymes echo across to the genteel manor houses on the ridge so they can revel in the complaints they get. But they could do that without joining in. They could just play it loud and listen in on the machine gun vocal artistry. Why co-opt the lyrics and give them their own luxe life spin? It doesn’t feel right. Drill is defiance but drill is grim. And especially, drill is swagger in the face of powerful adversity. I wonder if these boys know much adversity.
(Yeah cuh whatever)
You rap to your friends at parties asking
“How do I sound on drill?”
And most of them cats just go with the flow
‘Cos half of them boys ain’t real
Oh-one-two I been in these streets
And oh-two-one I’m still in them still
And when I say my brothers
Will let that slap on a track
‘Cos I know they will
(Lyrics from ONEFOUR
Street Guide Part 1)