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Brooklyn artist Rocko Ballin harnesses a unique sound in drill

The Brooklyn drill scene currently sits at the intersection of change. Ever since the death of Bobby Shmurda in 2014 and the Pop Smoke in 2020, the nature of hip-hop sound is struggling to pinpoint what’s the next road. And, a year later, Rocko Ballin is perhaps the most interesting rapper driving Brooklyn’s scene forward.

Brooklyn has been long-held as one of the epicenters of hip-hop. The place gave birth to some of the greatest legends of the genre; from Jay-Z to the Notorious B.I.G.

And then, it found a revival in relevance through Shmurda that dissipated with his six-year prison sentence for weapon possession.

rocko ballin
Rocko Ballin singing for the “Time Up” Music Video directed by @NothingStrnge

A few years later, newcomer Pop Smoke arrived on the scene. He ignited the Brooklyn drill fire once more. And this brought more global attention to a sub-section of Hip-hop that was rapidly changing. Yet, his murder at the age of 20 brought once again, a hole into the scene just as it was taking off.

And, after the dust has settled Rocko Ballin, the 19-year-old East-New York rapper brings a distinct sound, fighting to recapture the magic that Pop Smoke elicited on the world.

While many are successful in their own right with this formula, Rocko Ballin understands that it’s important to stand out.

“Everybody wants to do the same things. Like you want to stand out. You want to hear this? Look at him. Do you want to hear this? Then look at him. There’s no in-between for me and that’s the point. Be good at what you do.”

Rocko Ballin

Rocko Ballin: A new lane

It is worth mentioning that Rocko Ballin is very good at what he does. He is finding a unique musical style in the drill scene to separate himself from his peers.

And, instead of growling rhymes over Brooklyn’s now trademark cinematic thunder-clap beats, Ballin chooses to serenade these beasts of production with melodic croons.

One would assume that this approach would contrast with the current Brooklyn sound. But, Ballin floats deliveries of words where he’s hopping over consonants. Plus, the extending vowels in his lyrics weave into the hard-hitting production crafted by frequent collaborator A Lau.

Just like a well-thought-out side plot in a summer blockbuster.

His confidence shines through in his lyrics. In his song “Time Up” Ballin dispels critics and haters by rapping, “And he got his own sound with him, so how can they hate on whatever he got?”

“I started young. Like in middle school. I would make one song, put it out, then drop another song like a year later or a couple of months later. It was really on some fun shit in middle school. Like High-school, since “Ten Toes” and up, that’s when I started taking music seriously.”

Rocko Ballin, 2021

Ballin began rapping at a young age and started with the same tools as many of today’s up-and-coming artists, through YouTube beats and his homies.

Rap is digital

His influences growing up mirror the trajectory of Brooklyn’s sound, taking pieces from Chicago’s drill scene and the South’s cultural dominance in rap over the last decade.

“I was into a lot of Herb (G-Herbo), Lil Bibby, Lil Durk, NBA Youngboy. I listened to em all.”

Rocko Ballin, 2021

At 19 he grew up during the height of Chicago’s drill scene. The city is known for creating the genre which has since expanded out to NYC and overseas in the UK with their grime movement.

And NBA Youngboy’s influence is remarkable because he’s only 21. Yet he had has been rapping since the age of 14, building a loyal fanbase online. And that only not only speaks to the digital age of rap today but of how Ballin is the continuation of this modern trend.

Beyond the music, what impresses one about Ballin the most is his loyalty to the people and the city that raised him. That philosophy extends to his brotherhood with his crew, East New York Sound (ENYS).

“That’s the sound. That’s us. We started that. It’s deeper than music. It’s not making music and punching it out. It deeper than whatever they think or whatever they are going to think.” 

Rocko Ballin, 2021

Loyalty over everything

Loyalty to the city and its sound is paramount to Ballin’s team. Cultivating Brooklyn’s sound and stamping it as their own to the world. It’s a pride in the area’s drill scene that ENYS wears on their sleeves and inspires their unity that hopes to extend across the city.

“I feel like New York right now is getting more attention. Every year someone is popping from Atlanta or from somewhere else. I feel like that’s starting to happen for me but I see this getting bigger for everybody.”

Rocko Ballin, 2021

All this is getting bigger for Rocko. He recently finalized his first project “Lucky Last Born,” marking his formal introduction to the music world. The timing was everything for him as he sat on a wealth of material, waiting for the perfect moment to drop his first body of work.

“I had a lot ready to go. I’d go to the studio every day and not drop cause the time wasn’t right.”

Rocko Ballin, 2021

Perhaps now it is.