The dynamics of the rap game shifted 10 years ago. By the time the 2010s rolled around, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and J. Cole were foreshadowed as the heirs of the throne, but nobody could’ve predicted the explosive nature of drill music. The sound that Young Chop and Chief Keef produced was refreshing, youthful, and in retrospect, the most impactful of the past decade.
You can’t mention the sounds of drill without the God Of Drill himself, King Louie. He’s an integral part of Chicago’s subculture, even before the rise of Chief Keef, and what we now know as drill music. Louie was hustling actual CDs throughout Chicago in the years leading to his big break. Though many of his classic tapes remain available on sites like DatPiff and YouTube, he’s working towards bringing some of his classic mixtapes from the Tony and Drilluminati series onto DSPs.
Image provided by the artist. Photo credit: Sugarmilk, Haley Scott Photos.
Years after the release of projects like Drillimunati, there’s a new generation of artists emerging from across the globe who are putting their own spin on Chicago’s sound. The UK, New York, and several other spots in the world have formed their own take on drill that’s currently influencing just about every other genre.
“The shit that they just make, like, all the drill shit sounds the same. It don’t all gotta be like that. It could be different shit,” Louie told HNHH. He added it’s not just the sound but the content that for years, has misidentified what drill music is.
“It’s a way of life, bro. It’s a verb, bro,” he continued. “Like, it could be anything, bro. We did fire drills. Wasn’t no-fucking-body and getting killed, nobody’s shooting or nothin’ in no fire drill when we were in school. That was a drill. So, it’s like anything could be a drill. It’s like the killing aspect of that shit, or just like the term, ‘man drilled his ass.’ Motherfuckas like, ‘that’s raw’ and that’s how they took it.”
We recently caught up with King Louie to chop it up about his catalog, the trajectory of drill music, working with Kanye West, and so much more.
Read our interview below, edited for clarity and length. Stay tuned for new music from King Louie in the near future.
HNHH: Yo King Louie, what’s going on, bro?
King Louie: What’s the word? Is it cool if I smoke?
Yeah, bro. Do your thing, it’s all good. Can you take me back to your early days? Before things popped off when you were handing out CDs and like, trying to get the name out before like the radio play and the fame?
‘06. Late ‘05, like the end in ‘05, I was kicked out of school. That’s when I started going over my homie crib. My homie, E. We would record at his house, at his momma’s house. Started just riding around the city and shit, just passing the CDs out. Like, all around the city, on all sides. And then the city just took to it because there really wasn’t nothin’, you know what I’m sayin’? Nobody was really doing music. So, it was just like, that’s how I got the buzz. Then I started putting out videos and shit. For a minute, they ain’t know how I look. And then when I started putting the videos out, they were like, “Oh, this how he looks,” so it put a face to it and it was just a dope journey.
When you look at guys like Chief Keef and Durk and everybody that’s been part of that era of drill, they propelled through YouTube. What I always found interesting about you is that you really had to go through that, that rapper-rapper grind from like —
Yeah, for me, getting my buzz and getting my shit out there was, like, the internet was a plus for me. But I was riding around with the guys. Me and the guys, we’re riding around, getting high, listening to the shit, and passing the shit out. All day. That’s what a motherfucka do was sit in the crib all day and just burn CDs and shit. That’s when CDs was in. I remember motherfuckas used to steal my CDs like, with the stuff that I wasn’t putting out on a disk to give out. They would steal the unreleased shit. It’s just dope how shit used to be.
That’s crazy ‘cause, you know, just having a bank of unreleased music and before anything really popped off on the national level, having people really try and get your music that wasn’t out.
It really wasn’t out anyway. My first mixtape was Boss Shit. I can’t even pinpoint when exactly I put that out, but that was like the first body of work I put out. But this was way before Boss Shit. It was just like mothafuckas been doing it for quite a while, you know? But it was just the journey and the leg work, you know what I’m saying? All the fun with the guys and everything. Putting on the name or whatever or getting myself out there, it was dope.
I believe you put the Drillumnati mixtape and Tony up on streaming services, right?
Drillumnati was already there. I’m working on getting D2 and D3 on there, as of now. Tony is back on all streaming platforms. And, as well as Tony 2 and I got Soprano on there. And Chiraq Drillinois should be there sooner or later. I’m trying to get all my old catalogs put on the streaming platforms.
How was that adjustment from a very grassroots level, to using the internet as a tool, to now having the streaming era take effect? How’s that process been for you? These are tapes that are considered classics in their own right.
It’s dope off the strength of, like my real fans and shit that wanted that shit on their phones or whatever with all the streaming platforms. But my music wasn’t on there and they had to go to another app. I appreciate them wanting that so it’s like, I’m happy for them to be able to get what they want. And then just to experience the whole streaming shit. That’s decent. That’s another source of income, so that’s decent, as well.
Image provided to HNHH by artist. Photo credit: Sugarmilk, Haley Scott Photos.
Talk to me about Drilluminati. What was your mentality going into that tape and like recording that tape? Was there even a mission statement when you went into the booth to record this project?
Yeah, you get in that mode. Sometimes, some of the songs might be old songs that might make a new project. But it’s like, the songs that fit the title, you know? Drilluminati was more like a way of life, you know what I’m saying? Like, a secret society-type shit for the drillers. So, that was how I went into that. What at least came up when I’m listening to this body of work was, ah this could be called this. This could be Drilluminati. That’s how I do my shit. I probably had a song, or if I come with the name first, I’ll find the songs that fit the name. Or if I got a certain tracklist that I’m thinking about is going to be a project or my brother might think, ‘all these tracks will be a project.’ Now, I come with a title for how I feel about that, you know I’m saying? So, that’s it go.
What’s the reference to Tony?
Tony’s like an alter ego type shit. Like, I grew up — I was born out west of Chicago. Once I got to the seventh grade, I migrated to the east side of Chicago. Then I kind of moved a little south of the city. But that’s just me saying like, I came from somewhere else, and then I made a name for myself everywhere like Tony Montana. So, that’s Tony. So when the people love King Louie, that’s the Tony effect. It’s just some shit I played with and ran with. Then I got an uncle named Tony. So, you know.
Is it accurate to say that, because you moved so much around Chicago, you were able to build a name for yourself everywhere you go? I mean, everyone loves King Louie.
I mean, shit. It’s just like, I’m a cool individual. I’m not a fuck individual. I’m likable. I’m compatible, you know?
I ask that because you mentioned in an interview that the essence of drill is how much the streets support you. Chicago has its own divisions and I think you mentioned in that same interview that not many people listened to music from other hoods. However, you said that when you came out, you were able to reach everyone from Chicago.
I remember what you’re talking about now. What I was trying to say was everybody else before me, in the sense of all successful artists like Crucial Conflict and the Twista’s, they made it to the other sides and everything. But when we started rapping, you would seldomly hear it in other areas. When we started rapping, the city’s style, like — we re-lit the fire for the city. Everybody’s listening. If you could be right here, we still listen to you all the way over there. Twista was still dropping albums back then. He had just done the Kanye shit, the “Overnight Celebrity” shit. But the people I had grown up on in the city weren’t really listening to a Crucial Conflict or anything from out west, where I was at. I don’t think they was checking for this shit where I was at. Where I came from. But once I started putting my music out and everybody that came behind me, it was like, shit, the city started listening to that shit.
What was it kind of like witnessing, not even just the music but the culture itself, grow the way it did? With social media, the things that are happening regionally are now getting amplified on a bigger scale. The world was gravitating towards drill but also attaching itself to the lingo and the culture as a whole.
That shit is dope but also, it could be bittersweet because sometimes people don’t genuinely understand what something is. Like, it’s cool. They praise it but you really don’t know. So when people know the history of it and know what they’re talking about, what they be speaking on is, it’s cool. But it’s like, fuck out of here when you really don’t know the origin. Where this shit really originated from and all that. The originators and [people] just don’t pay homage. But it’s successful. Drill is successful and that’s the dope part. Like, you got to overlook all the bad for the good. And the good is drill is successful. Coming from where it came from, it’s successful.
You dropped a song called “Pac Man Drip” in 2018, 2019. What can you tell me about Pac Man and his contributions to drill? Tell me how it shaped from his time to how it influenced your era and moving forward.
Well, Pac. RIP Pac. That’s the originator of drill. Bro, he was killed. And that’s what made me keep going with the shit because it was like, we’re from the same hood. And once folks got killed, it’s like, the drill shit, we were going hard for it, but it was his movement. But I just kept going with the shit for the love, for folks. And it took. But what the streets be thinkin’ on or the world be thinkin’ on, that’s some whole other shit. They won’t even know who Pac Man is.
“Well, Pac [Man]. RIP Pac. That’s the originator of drill. Bro, he was killed. And that’s what made me keep going with the shit because it was like, we’re from the same hood. And once folks got killed, it’s like, the drill shit, we were going hard for it, but it was his movement.”
I always say it’s kind of weird, how the beats and all that shit, like what they consider the drill is like — we, in the beginning, we never rapped on those type of beats. So for people to say that’s drill, it’s kind of weird. Like if you listen to Drilluminati — the beats they consider drill beats now, it’s not those type of beats on Drilluminati. For drill to be what considered what drill is now, is like, how? For it to just be a genre — because the genre could be way bigger than what it is, because drill could be anything.
Do you think drill has kind of been gentrified in that sense? When people have one specific definition of drill yet the way you explain it is far deeper than that.
I would say it’s fu-washed. You know how they say shit whitewashed? Like, history. They trying to whitewash history and abolish like black history and all that? They can’t teach that in school anymore? So, it’s fu-washed. Like is fu as fuck. It’s washed. It’s fu. Like, the people who view me, they ain’t keepin’ it funky. So it’s fu-washed. That’s what I would call it.
How do you feel about the international pockets that have taken on drill?
That’s what I was saying. It’s cool and understandable but motherfuckers got to understand. The shit that they just make, like, all the drill shit sounds the same. It don’t all gotta be like that. It could be different shit. I understand, but what motherfuckers gotta understand is that, this is genuinely not what it is, all the way like that.
It’s a way of life, bro. It’s a verb, bro. Like, it could be anything, bro. We did fire drills. Wasn’t no-fucking-body getting killed, nobody’s shooting or nothin’ in no fire drill when we were in school. That was a drill. So, it’s like anything could be a drill. It’s like the killing aspect of that shit, or just like the term, “man drilled his ass.” Motherfuckas like, “that’s raw” and that’s how they took it.
“It’s a way of life, bro. It’s a verb, bro. Like, it could be anything, bro. We did fire drills. Wasn’t no-fucking-body getting killed, nobody’s shooting or nothin’ in no fire drill when we were in school. That was a drill. So, it’s like anything could be a drill. It’s like the killing aspect of that shit, or just like the term, “man drilled his ass.” Motherfuckas like, “that’s raw” and that’s how they took it.”
But it’s like drill, it could be anything, bro. You at work? That’s the drill. That’s the drill we on. l don’t know how many interviews you’re going to do today but shit, you know the drill. You gotta do them bitches. It’s like that. They made this shit like this, that shit could be anything, you feel me?
It’s interesting that there’s this blurred definition because I’ve interviewed a couple people in the past who’ve admitted that they weren’t sure about what exactly drill is.
Yeah and that’s what I’m sayin’. And that’s what makes people say, “man, I don’t like that drill shit, man.” Because now, it’s like they’re putting you in a box. R&B shit could be drill, bro. If you fucked to an R&B classic — you drilled her, you feel me? It was a drill. It was a real drill last night. It was a mood, it was a vibe, it was real drill, you feel me? You killed the pussy. So it’s like, anything could be a drill, bro. Taking the kids to school. “Come on, kids. Put your shoes on, everybody get they bookbags, you guys know the drill.” C’mon, where’s the violence, bro? Anything is a drill, bro. Boss Shit, it’s a drill, bro.
Image provided to HNHH by artist. Photo credit: Sugarmilk, Haley Scott Photos.
When you listen to a song like “Live and Die in Chicago,” it captures what you just said. It’s the epitome of drill in a lot of ways but production-wise, it doesn’t fit inside of that box that you mentioned.
“Live and Die in Chicago,” I wrote that because I liked the video. Because I ain’t even write it. I lowkey just got in the booth and just spit that shit out off of the head. But I saw a Tupac video, “Live and Die in LA”, and I was feeling that shit so it was just like, I like that vibe. And it was just like it was really just speaking to live and die in Chicago. It wasn’t really no drill beat, though. I don’t even know what kind of beat you would call that shit but it isn’t how the drill beats sound now.
How much was ‘Pac an influence on you?
At one point, he was like my favorite artist.
And what gravitated you to someone like 2Pac?
Really, it was my uncles who were listening to it and I just liked it. He was a dope artist. I like [the way] he recorded his vocals. Like, some of his shit, it was kind of all over the place. It was in sync but it was rough. That shit — ‘Pac used to be doing would be going crazy. I used to love ‘Pac. I used to fuck with ‘Pac when I was a shorty.
Can you take me back to that session with Kanye for Yeezus? I think I read somewhere you woke up from a nap and stepped into the booth to record your verse on “Send It Up.”
It was like [laughs] — we were in Paris. And it’s like mothafucka gotta get up, gotta get a cab and all that shit. So it was like yeah, it’s studio time. Gotta go to the studio, get to the studio, it’s early. They set me up and shit. I was still tired. And when I laid the verse, it turned out to be the verse. What I laid down turned out to be the verse and hook. It was dope.
You wrote on the album, outside of your verse, right?
Yeah, I did some shit.
Was that your first time writing for someone else?
For an artist of that caliber. But yeah, I wrote shit for people when we weren’t on.
Is that a different process for you? Writing for yourself as the main artist in comparison to writing for another artist like Kanye West.
Not really. If you a fan of the artist, you can try to get in and say shit that you would think would be cool if they said. It’s helping. It’s all it is.
It doesn’t matter what part of the building you helped make. If you help make the mothafucking key to go in the lock, you made the key. It was part of the building like, “we need the key made,” you helped make that mothafucka. Some people do electricity, some people do bricklaying. Everybody makes the building. So, it’s like, that’s how it is. I look at it like that.
You were also in Wyoming for the Ye sessions too, right? How did working on Yeezus in Paris compare to working in Jackson Hole, Wyoming for Ye?
It’s still like, “what you can bring to the table.” What type of flavor can you bring? Like, does it go with the dish? So like, because you in the studio, I’m not out there kicking it. So if I’m locked in the studio at the crib, I’m not outside. When you get the work, you put in, you feel me? And then if they fuck with it, they fuck with it.
We artists, so it’s like, all the music we make doesn’t sound the same. You might make a hard-ass song, and then can make the R&B song on the same day. You could have wrote them bitches on the same day. So it’s just what’s the work? What we doing?
Like at a restaurant, a motherfucka might want some fries. Another motherfucka might want some cookies or a motherfucka might want some ice cream. You gotta know how to make all them shits. You got to know how to do a pop with no ice, you got to remember the no ice, you got to remember extra ice. You gotta know how to do all this shit — cash register. We’re artists and we making music, it’s just like, this how we coming.
Image provided to HNHH by artist. Photo credit: Sugarmilk, Haley Scott Photos.
How did the relationship with Drake form? You got the OVO tattoo and everything.
Oh, Drake, actually I was at one of his shows, it was close to Chicago. Anywho, he had shouted a motherfucka out at the concert, which was dope. We linked at the club or something later on that night. I think that was the same night he had dropped that “Tuesday” shit. Then I had a show out in Canada, and he had somebody slide to the show. Then after the show, they had took us to link up with Drake. You know, we chilled for a minute, talked, politic and that was about it.
Your connection to Canada is deeper than simply linking up with Drake. So what inspired your single, “In Love With Canada?” You name-dropped a bunch of Canadian cities on the track.
I think that was part of “Tony” tour that I had did. I got booked in all of them cities or whatever. It was live shit at every city, every show. I was like, “Eee, this shit slick. I love this shit.” This is dope, it’s Canada. I love Canada! And I did a song. I had to do a song about it. It was just a dope-ass experience. It was fun, man.
Was this the first time you were in Canada?
No, that wasn’t the first time I was there. And you know, it was like for my tour. So we going to all these different cities and shit, and every show packed. It’s mad love out there. This is a whole different country. So, it was dope as hell to me. So I made a song about how happy I was with it. I’m like, yeah I gotta go make a song.
Oh, that’s dope. Did you record that in Canada?
I can’t remember though, but I don’t think so. I think I came back and it was just like we just talking about it and shit. Then I just made the song about that shit like fuck it.
You dropped “Smoking Cali” earlier. What does that song say about what you have in store for the remainder of the year?
I got a bunch of more shit. That shit is old to me. I just got a bunch of shit. I’m gonna start flooding shit. It’s more to come.
Are we going to get a new project soon?
I’ll probably put the EP out next month sometime. But like I say, I got a whole heap of shit.
Have you just been stocking up on a mad amount of records?
I just been recording. Ain’t no reason to stop recording. Even though I wasn’t putting out any music, I still gotta record, still gotta practice. I just got a bunch of shit.
“I just been recording. Ain’t no reason to stop recording. Even though I wasn’t putting out any music, I still gotta record, still gotta practice. I just got a bunch of shit.”