From Ivorian Doll to Miss Lafamilia, these female UK drill rappers are dominating on their own terms.
Twenty-twenty was a defining year for women of rap in the United States. Houston native Megan Thee Stallion set the tone with her raunchy, unapologetic debut album Good News that matches her commanding presence; DMV native Rico Nasty elevated the screamo rock-influenced rap subgenre with her debut album Nightmare Vacation; and Miami rap duo City Girls embodied hustler-driven sex appeal with their second album, City On Lock. The women of rap were also showing up throughout other parts of the world, too, particularly in the UK drill scene. From the self-proclaimed “Queen of Drill” Ivorian Doll clapping back against targeted slut-shaming on the infectious “Rumours” or Shaybo’s effortless flow switching on “Anger,” female UK drill rappers are redefining the genre throughout the country.
First popularized in the early 2010s by Chicago artists like Chief Keef, Lil Durk, Lil Reese, and the late Fredo Santana drill has become a regional subgenre in other places across the world, despite the censorship, condemnation, and policing it has — and continues — to face. Aside from Chicago, two of the most notable other styles of drill come from the UK and Brooklyn. The latter’s own take on the subgenre rose to prominence in the mid-2010s. Initially, UK drill sounded much like its Chicago counterpart, with rappers like Stizzy Stickz and M Dargg appearing on tracks that sound like they could’ve been produced by Chicago’s Young Chop. Producer 808Melo would be credited with creating UK drill’s distinct sonic template in the late 2010s, his sliding 808 bass melodies and syncopated hi-hat patterns on tracks like Headie One’s “The Jugg” and “Know Better” foreshadowing the sound’s rise in 2017 and 2018.
808Melo would be the connective thread between UK drill and the burgeoning Brooklyn drill scene that also came about in the late 2010s, with the producer crafting the late Pop Smoke’s 2019 breakout single, “Welcome to the Party.” Prior to that, Melo had crafted tracks for Sleepy Hallow, another rapper considered a vanguard of Brooklyn drill, producing his 2018 track “Better Than Us.” Fellow UK drill producer AXL Beats was also integral to Brooklyn drill’s rise, producing Fivio Foreign’s own 2019 breakout hit “Big Drip,” as well as 22Gz’s viral “Suburban” in 2016.
Despite Smoke’s death last year, the sound he helped pioneer not only persists in Brooklyn but in the UK, with rappers like Ivorian Doll, Shaybo, Lavida Loca, and Miss Lafamilia channeling the energy he brought to Brooklyn drill.
“Pop Smoke’s presence ignited interest into the drill sound over here in the UK,” Ivorian Doll told Okayplayer. Lafamilia echoed a similar sentiment: “I love how Pop Smoke was spot on in the way that he was able to ignite buzz over in the U.S. with the drill sound.”
And they’re intent on redefining UK drill in their own terms, too, with each one offering their own distinct take on the subgenre. These are the female UK drill rappers redefining the sound.
Ivorian Doll (East London)
Ivorian Doll is a creative powerhouse who began her career as a leading UK YouTube influencer before becoming an artist known for her cheeky and catchy lyrical wordplay.
“With drill music, you can’t really have a soft tempo because it’s your voice and the beat that makes the impact,” she said. “You have to skate on the beat. You have to slide on it. Drill is subjectively easy but it’s not as easy because you can’t say you want to do drill and then your voice is soft. It doesn’t make sense.”
Ivorian first started rapping in high school with her friends but didn’t have any thoughts of turning it into a career then. Now, at the age of 22, she has become a rising figure in UK rap, initially starting out in the rap duo Abigail x Ivorian Doll alongside fellow UK artist Abigail Asante, before branching out on her own as a solo artist toward the end of 2019 with her single “Queen of Drill.” But it would be the cultural reset of 2020’s “Rumours” that truly set the stage for Ivorian, a T1OTB & DA-produced track where she shines with her fast-paced vocal delivery, and offers a hook that playfully witty take on the concept of shooting your shot.
Ivorian then followed up “Rumours” with “Body Bag” and “Clout.” “Body Bag” is a testament to not taking mess from absolutely no one as she “body bags these bitches and leads them all to their ditches,” while “Clout” could be perceived as a nonchalant call-out to those who were originally skeptical of her musical capabilities. No matter what is pitted against her, Ivorian Doll is clearly in-tune with her influence, intention, and overall creative presence in the music industry.
“I’m excited to see how this all plays out for me because I feel like I’m in-sync with what my fans love,” she said. “What happens if I become a big star?”
Shaybo (South East London)
Shaybo may have become a MOBO Awards “Best Newcomer” Nominee in 2020, but there’s no denying the craft and dedication she brings to her rapping and artistry.
“Music has always been the destined path for me, honestly,” she said. “I remember always having to be Beyoncé every time that I would pretend to be a part of Destiny’s Child with the girls. She was always the star and I wanted to be that, too.”
Shaybo first caught people’s attention in a viral 2011 freestyle, and has since found herself performing alongside legendary UK DJs like DJ SEMTEX, as well as recording with her contemporaries. Such was the case with 2019’s “Bonjour Cava,” her song with Miss Lafamilia that finds her tapping into her sensuality and femininity, all while rapping in three different languages — French, English, and Yoruba — like it’s nothing.
“You have to walk into that recording booth and know where your intention lies,” Shaybo said about recording. “Your listeners will be able to feel your presence through your track so it’s important to be genuine. Match your voice inflection with the production level and you’re bound to secure a hit each time.”
This is evident in her 2020 UK drill track “Anger,” a fast-paced, horror-themed track where Shaybo flexes her ability to shapeshift into different vocal inflections with ease and offers humorous and witty lines like, “I know a lot of looney tunes, so warn a brudda” or “Tell your girl shoo, ‘fore her soul hits the floor” that serve as reminders of her freestyling background.
And she still makes time for freestyles, too. Last year saw the release of her “Daily Duppy” freestyle, where she proudly proclaimed herself the queen of the South, the queen of rap, and the queen of drill with a charisma and confidence that’ll turn skeptics into believers. She has also acquired a major crossover moment with “Dobale,” a powerful homage to her Nigerian heritage that shows her versatility as an artist with its Afrobeat sound. With her much-anticipated The Queen of the South project on the horizon, Shaybo is bound to expand on her ever-growing fanbase while expanding her horizons overall.
“I want to continue to uplift women through my expression because we all have a story to tell,” she said. “My music sometimes comes from a space of pain, but I like how it uplifts those to overcome adversity.’
Lavida Loca (Bulwell, Nottingham)
In order to fully understand the layers of Lavida Loca, one must understand the foundation that ultimately built this versatile woman. Lavida endured a lengthy prison sentence in her youth that would ultimately redefine her life’s purpose on a personal and musical level.
“I think that my most defining moment would be coming out of prison and having to see that there is a different life that I could be living,” she said. “That was the moment I had where I could make a choice: whether I wanted to be on the roads with my old lifestyle, or whether I wanted to pursue this new journey.”
Lavida chose the latter and came out the gate with 2019’s “The King’s Back,” a cutthroat, prolific anthem that defined her past but affirmed her bright future in the same breath. But her foray into UK drill came the following year with “On My,” a menacing track that finds her skillfully playing with different flows and crafting a catchy hook that also serves as a warning to any potential enemies. The track was included on her 2 Sides EP, a six-track release that showcases her versatility as an artist.
“My signature sound can’t be defined because I am heavily influenced by so many genres of music,” she said. “I am able to listen to a sound and match that sound through my artistry.”
Miss Lafamilia (Birmingham)
Miss Lafamilia isn’t just one of UK drill’s most promising artists, she’s also her own boss. The CEO of the highly successful La Familia’s Dolls Modeling Agency, Lafamilia balances making raps about her life and ensuring music video models are paid properly and are safe from predatory behavior while on set.
“I wanted to give the ladies an agency where they can be themselves and feel comfortable,” she said. “No one is perving on them, no one’s trying to make them do any more or less than what they should be doing.”
As for her foray into rap, Lafamilia first gained notable attention for her 2019 “Addictive” remix, where she showcased her commanding hustler-like cadence and praised the agency she built from the ground up over an instrumental of Truth Hurts‘ 2002 hit song of the same name. But in terms of UK drill, in 2019 she featured on Shaybo’s “Bonjour Cava,” a sensual collaboration where Lafamilia stands out with her winning combo of sultriness and assertiveness, letting listeners know that “she don’t want the top unless the top sloppy.”
“It’s about mastering storytelling. Depending on the mood that you’re trying to go with, you can take it to one extreme or the other,” she said of her approach to UK drill. “With R&B and hip-hop sometimes, you can be more expressive within that. With drill, if the beat is hard and you’re in that mood, you’re gonna kill them. If the beat is hard and you’re in another mood, you’re gonna make them cry.”
Lafamilia ended out last year with her celebratory “Toast” freestyle, in honor of her first-ever record deal with Island Records UK and Universal Music Group. But it’s a freestyle she did over Pop Smoke’s “War” earlier in the year that really highlighted how Lafamilia is approaching drill differently. Employing a sing-rap delivery, she hones in on the moodiness of the 808 Melo-produced track, building a melody behind her raps that breathes new air into the Meet the Woo 2 bonus track.
“When it comes to drill, it feels like therapy for me,” she said. “It is the one genre where men talk about the hustle and the life that they have to live. Everyone has their opinion on what drill music should be. I’m trying to bring a different twist to it.”
Court Kim is every Woman and then some. She’s the Owner of Court Kim Media, LLC, Curve Model, Humans Rights Activist, and a proud daughter of her loving, supportive parents. In her spare time, she enjoys spending quality time with her loved ones when she’s not working on her freelance career as a multi-dimensional creative. Court Kim is a New York based freelance writer from Atlanta, GA. Follow her @TheCourtKim