In the last weeks of 2018, a 30-second snippet of a drill track picked up hundreds of thousands of views on Twitter. It only really took a matter of days. A preview of a forthcoming song from rising MC Russ (sometimes known as Russ Splash), the clip was dedicated to the “Gun Lean” – a dance move he’d been flexing in videos all year. Set to the gothic keys and skittering snares that have characterised the underground UK drill scene for the last couple of years, this was a new evolution of the sound; a mix of bleak aesthetics with lyrics explicitly exhorting the listener to dance – even if the shoulder shuffling skank in question was, with drill’s typically dark humour, meant to imply you were carrying the cold weight of heavy artillery.
Before Russ had so much as released the track, Virgin stepped in with the cheque book, and turbocharged it’s ascent. When it finally dropped just before Christmas it was carried on a wave of underground fandom that broke into the UK pop charts – and with responses and remixes now coming from as far afield as the US (yep, from Safaree), it looks more and more likely that 2019 is the year drill will break into the mainstream. We caught up with Russ to chat about his journey so far and why he sees himself as the pioneer of drill and bashment hybrid, crashment. Oh, and hamsters too – more on that in a minute.
Noisey: So Russ, run us through the history of the Gun Lean.
Russ: I’ve been doing the Gun Lean dance since I started rapping, but it’s only now people are noticing it because now I’ve made the song about it. But I’ve been saying ‘Gun Lean’ and doing it in the videos since the start.
When did you first start recording tracks?
I never wrote a verse in my life until summertime 2016. My friends were rapping and I tried to rap but I was rubbish. Then by the time 2018 came, I started writing little lyrics and getting hold of beats. I started making YouTube videos and I was getting kinda a good reaction, so I said, ‘you know what I’m gonna take this seriously.; I made “Splash Out 2.0,” which got a million views, and after that I started taking everything really serious. I followed with “Boom Flick,” then after that “Splash Out 3.0.”
Then after “Splash Out 3.0” my little sister died. I didn’t want to do music no more; my life was messed up, I didn’t wanna do nothing. But everyone around me was telling me, “raaa, your little sister loved your music, she would have wanted you to do it.” I still didn’t for a while, then I thought, you know what I’m gonna carry on. I came back and did the “Lightwork Freestyle,” which got a million views in a week and a bit. After that I went to do a show in Ireland, and while I was over there I did “Link Up” with JB2 and Chuks and it just blew up. After that I did “Gun Lean” and then we’re here
When I hear the name “Boom Flick”, I think of the bashment track from Aidonia – is there a bashment influence in what you do?
Yeah, definitely – my mum and dad are Caribbean. I listen to loads of bashment: Masicka, Aidonia, Dexta Daps, Vybz Kartel… just loads.
I’ve heard a few of the producers recently throwing around the term “crashment” to describe this new development of drill. What do you think of that as a name?
I created it! I came up with the style crashment.
So is “Gun Lean” a crashment tune?
Yeah, “Gun Lean” is crashment. It’s drill and bashment put together, that’s the easiest way to describe it. It’s mad, I can’t describe it, it’s just the way I do it, if you hear my music you know what I mean.
I think it was the producer GottiOnEm who told me that crashment was like drill but with lyrics that were less violent and cruddy, and more danceable instead – is that fair?
Yeah that sounds fair still. Hopefully it’ll keep going in 2019.
Some of your older lyrics were pretty greasy – are you consciously changing the content?
Definitely. “Gun Lean” is more commercial, that’s my plan. The more commercial I get, the more commercial music I’ll make. I’m making music more for the wider public as I’m getting more known.
2018 was a year that the media spent a lot of time discussing the negatives of drill – have you found that people have made assumptions on what you’re gonna be like from the media portrayal of drill?
If I‘m honest, no one can be surprised if the media is the way it is about the violence of drill, because there are people out here that are proving them right. If you do certain stupid things you’re proving the media right. It’s not just drill though – I know singers who have fights. A genre does not determine how a person acts; I know people that can sing that will beat you up! If a man does drill and a man does singing it doesn’t necessarily mean the drill artist is more violent, it’s just how someone is as a character. I wouldn’t say the music determines what kind of character a person has [noises of rustling take over] – wait, sorry, if the phone’s moving about. It’s because I’m feeding my hamsters.
Yeah yeah, I got two, well my little sister’s got one and I’ve got one. One of them’s called Stuart and the other ones Tifiyah. Stuart like Stuart Little. I put my hamster on my Snapchat bare times!
Haa yeah I’ve seen em – and talking about social media, I gotta raise that one of the things you’re known for is beefing other artists on Instagram Live –
Yeah, yeah that’s fair still.
Is it on purpose to create hype?
Nah, nah fam it’s not on purpose. Someone says something, then I’ll say something back and I’m the bad guy – it don’t make no sense.
You’re never shy to take it public though.
Nah, I’m not shy! The way I see it though is that I know what I’m doing in my life and my plans. You gotta remember that every time I’ve been arguing with someone, I’ve been loading it, I’ll be arguing with guys, but at the same time I’m loading “Gun Lean” – I don’t care about the guys I’m arguing with. I’ve got bigger plans innit; me spending a little two to three minutes to tell you how dumb you are, I don’t mind, cos I know what music I’ve got in store.
And might that have anything to do with the US version of “Gun Lean” that Safaree shared?
I don’t want to shed too much light on that – you’ll see what happens.
Did you know that his version was gonna happen?
No! I woke up one day and everyone was like, “yo Russ look at this, look at this,” and I was like, ‘oh shit!’ I didn’t even know who he was! His version’s cold still. “Gun Lean pon the beat pon dem” – it’s hard.
It’s got that bashment feel as well.
Yea! That’s why I like it: he did a crashment ting. Give me three weeks and you’ll see what happens with that…
So there’s new music incoming…
There’s plenty more coming. I’ve got a couple of features coming, I don’t wanna say what – though I will say I do have a Tion Wayne feature coming. One for the girls. This is just the start.
You can find Ian on Twitter.