Tion Wayne Takes London Drill Worldwide
There’s a lot going on in the video for “Body 2,” the frantic and chaotic drill track that barnstormed the UK charts earlier this year. There’s ArrDee, a shitfaced-grinning Cockney teenager with a sort of swagger that I mostly associate with Guy Ritchie movies, talking about his enthusiasm for no-condom fucking: “Have you seen the state of her body? If I beat it, I ain’t wearing a johnny!” There’s Brooklyn drill star Fivio Foreign growling about how he’s done a lot of shit and he’s proud of his name. There’s London’s ZT (3X3), ski mask over his face, blustering about being a chest-shot specialist. There’s the Nigerian-born Darkoo, her hair bleached like Wesley Snipes in Demolition Man, snarling about what’s going to happen to you if you touch her watch. Everywhere, mobs of people crowd the camera, stream around cars, lock into half-synchronized dances, and generally rage out. It’s a beautifully chaotic five-minute energy burst, a riot of voices that somehow holds together with its own sense of hypnotic focus.
“Body” was a big song before that remix came out. Back in March, “Body” was just the London rappers Tion Wayne and Russ Millions braying about English and African girls. The song, which manages to be both ominous and hyperactive, was already racing up the UK charts. With the remix and its wildly busy video, “Body” exploded. In May, “Body” became the first drill song ever to reach #1 in the UK. “Body” was also a hit all across Europe. It topped the singles charts in Australia and New Zealand. Even in the US, where UK drill still hasn’t taken hold, “Body” made the R&B charts. It’s a global smash, a fascinating example of how drill has quickly become a sort of worldwide rap language.
When “Body” hit, Tion Wayne was trying to move away from the sound of drill. Wayne, the London-born son of two Nigerian immigrants, has been rapping since 2014, long before drill took over UK rap. He’s never been a strictly drill rapper. He’s said that he wants to work with pop stars like Taylor Swift and Adele, and he first made the UK top 10 rapping on the London group NSG’s 2018 single “Options,” a song that drew heavily on Afrobeats. Tion Wayne can do that. He’s got a deep, commanding, thick-accented voice that implies melody even when he’s not singing, and like a lot of big UK rappers, he’s got a gift for a certain kind of jet-set pop music.
But when “Body” took off, Wayne tweeted, “I said no more drill but number 1? You lot took it too far.” Wayne has made a lot of hits in the last few years, with and without frequent collaborator Russ Millions, and almost all of those hits have been, in one way or another, drill music. Tion Wayne’s version of drill has very little in common with what Chief Keef was doing a decade ago, or even with what Chief Keef is doing now. UK drill branched off quickly and became its own thing. Right now, there’s a thriving universe of UK drill rappers. Most of them talk street shit, and UK authorities have clamped down hard on them, just as authorities in Chicago and Brooklyn have done with their own drill scenes. (Tion Wayne once did 16 months in prison for taking part in a big nightclub brawl.) But the UK version of drill draws on the hectic nervousness of UK sounds like grime and garage. It sounds more like that stuff than the thundering menace of Chicago drill. A lot of the time, UK drill is basically party music, and Wayne is really good at that side of it.
Drill has taken on its own mutations all over the globe. Earlier this year, Polo G reached #1 in America, the first drill artist ever to pull that off, though Polo’s big hit didn’t sound that much like early-’00s Chicago drill either. These days, there’s drill in Ghana, in France, in Italy, in Australia. Most of that stuff sounds more like UK drill than like the stuff from Chicago. Even in Brooklyn, rappers like Pop Smoke took off by rapping on beats from UK producers; that’s why Fivio Foreign could sound so comfortable on the “Body” remix. The bass-wobbles of that UK drill sound are now just as globally omnipresent as the ticcy hi-hats of Atlanta trap.
For outsiders, that whole UK drill world can be hard to track. The YouTube channel GRM Daily posts a ton of songs everyday, and most of them sound almost exactly like one another. But every once in a while, something breaks through and clicks. For me, that was the “Body” remix. It reminded me of the early days of grime, when a track like Lethal Bizzle’s “Pow! (Forward)” seemed to radiate bugged-out energy in every direction. Once again, we had a massive posse cut where I’d never heard of most of the rappers but where everyone went crazy. The “Body” remix is a juggernaut. On the “Body” remix, Tion Wayne gets half the hook, but he’s one voice among many. This didn’t stop him from building on that momentum. After “Body,” Wayne, realizing that he should probably stick with this drill thing for now, rode around on tanks and Ferraris in the ridiculously entertaining video for his extremely fun solo single “Wow.”
A couple of weeks ago, in what might be the clearest sign of UK drill’s pop takeover yet, Ed Sheeran released a drill remix of his already-huge “Bad Habits,” and Tion Wayne got to achieve a big goal and work with a global pop star. On the “Bad Habits” remix, Wayne and fellow London rapper Central Cee go in over a mutated version of Sheeran’s slight disco-pop track. In the video, Sheeran visits the two rappers in the studio and mugs alongside them. It doesn’t really work, but Tion Wayne at least sounds like he belongs.
But I’m way more into “Wid It,” the single that Tion Wayne released last week. Reuniting with “Body” producer Gotcha Bxtch and remix scene-stealer ArrDee, Wayne flexes hard: “I got blonde girls coming to my show, even though their dad is a racist/ Ever since I made ‘I Dunno,’ the taxman on me for my statements.” In the video, Wayne does clap pushups in a hangar full of Lamborghinis and monster trucks. (I lived in England for a year as a kid, and I didn’t even know they had monster trucks over there.) The whole thing crackles with the kind of excitement that nobody can manufacture, hard as they might try. It bangs. I love it.
When he dropped “Wid It,” Tion Wayne also announced his debut album Green With Envy, which is coming out next month. It’ll have the hits like “Wow” and the “Body” remix, and it’ll also have songs with international stars like Polo G and 6LACK and Davido. But I hope it still has some of that euphoric underdog energy that I hear on a song like “Wid It.” After all, Tion Wayne is an international star now himself, and songs like that are what got him there.
1. Sauce Walka & Sauce Woodwinnin – “Sauce Panthers”
“I ain’t tryna scam with Jimmy Neutron/ Fuck I look like tryna barcode a coupon?” Incredible. The absolute disgust in Sauce Walka’s bellow — especially the part where he says that you’re peasants, human — is a true inspiration.
2. G Perico – “5 Freeway”
When the bass blurts its way in, I feel a moment of true, uncomplicated satisfaction. G Perico’s ear for hard West Coast beats is almost unparalleled.
3. Bla$ta – “Problem Solver” (Feat. Young Los)
Get ready for what might be the hardest Macaulay Culkin namecheck in rap history.
4. Blanco, Loski, & K-Trap – “Cerberus”
I wish I could stop thinking about the line “let it burn like Smithers.” Smithers works for Mr. Burns, and he’s in love with Mr. Burns, but does that means he’s letting it burn? Or Burn? How do you even get there? People’s minds are amazing.
5. Gunna – “9X Outta 10”
Gunna makes the prettiest music. This just melts.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO