Big Yaya (24) is photographed in South Jamaica, New York, United States.
2023 Photo Contest, North and Central America, Open Format

The Voice of New York Is Drill

Photographer

Ashley Peña

for New York Magazine
16 July, 2022

Big Yaya (24) is photographed in South Jamaica, New York, United States.

Originally from the streets of Chicago, United States, drill is the newest subgenre of hip-hop to blow up globally, influencing artists from the United Kingdom to Brazil to Korea. While its sound – fusing aggressive, raw lyrics with pounding, rapidly syncopated drums – may be a new phenomenon, the story of its rise is a familiar one in the history of rap music. Like generations of musicians before them, drill artists transform the pain and desperation of their experiences coming of age in some of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the United States into a distinct form of musical expression. 

But even as some drill artists rise to music stardom and enjoy global acclaim, at home, many are subject to misrepresentation by local authorities who believe that the violent lyrical content of the music is the cause and not the effect of crime in their cities. In New York City, drill artists are targeted by New York City Police Department (NYPD) investigators who comb their lyrics and music videos for evidence of gang-related crimes. Concerts are shut down, headliners are pulled from music festivals, and artists face criminal indictments. Complicating the situation, artists must contend with jealousy and rivalry from their own peers in their own neighborhoods. This series offers an intimate look at several members of this new generation of young men and women drill artists navigating the pride and pain of their experiences and striving to realize their dreams.

Ashley Peña is a Dominican-American artist based in New York. For this portrait series, commissioned by New York Magazine, she photographed her subjects in their own neighborhoods, studios, or other private spaces, combining intimate familiarity with visual references to religious iconography. The result is this series of personal portraits that stand in contrast to the ways in which many of these artists are typically portrayed in the media.

Listen to the artists featured in this story on Spotify.

Ashley Peña
About the photographer

Ashley Peña (b. 2000) is a Dominican-American artist originally from Maryland, United States,  and has lived and worked in New York as an image-maker since 2019. She is currently studying to obtain her Bachelor of Fine Arts at New York University, Tisch School of the Arts.  Known for being up-close and int...

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Jury comment

The collection of beautifully framed images pays homage to the history of hip hop while also situating us in the current reality of Drill artists in New York. The photographer presented an intersectional story that highlights how art imitates the lives of the drill artists, and elucidates how their music is used against them to criminalize and incarcerate their community. The diversity of images play off of music and sound and the atmospheric portraits enable one to see and hear how these people live and see the world. It is an extraordinary example of portraiture work.