Last summer, before DD Osama was being played out of every pre-teen’s Bluetooth speaker in the five boroughs, he was a relatively small-time drill rapper from the Sugar Hill area of Harlem. Along with his friend Sugarhill Ddot and little brother Notti Osama, they were a trio of baby-faced 14 and 15 year olds with a couple of no-holds-barred diss tracks to their names. Then tragedy struck. In early July 2022, 14-year-old Notti Osama was stabbed to death in the 137th Street-City College subway station. The incident rippled through New York’s drill scene, bringing a ton of attention to the trio and its music. Seemingly overnight they were sensations. Voyeuristic beef pages and online platforms, including but not limited to No Jumper, ran wild. Drake hit them up to model his newest clothing line. Labels swooped in with heavy briefcases in hand.
In the meantime, Notti’s death was callously turned into a punchline, most infamously by the attention-hungry viral hit “Notti Bop,” a song and dance mocking the way he died. Dark turns are inevitable in a subgenre that’s become the go-to outlet for the youngest residents of the most depleted and underserved corners of New York, but this was a new low. Now 16, DD Osama is the current most popular New York drill rapper not named Ice Spice. He commands a different type of fandom than previous title holders like Pop Smoke and Sheff G; those artists were older by a few years, which is a lot at that age. DD is beloved by kids who are still years away from getting into R-rated movies. Recently I spent a day at a middle school in Harlem and just about the only artist they wanted to talk about was DD Osama. At his live shows, young girls scream like he’s on the cover of Tiger Beat and adult chaperones mill around in the background. The dissonance couldn’t be louder on DD’s eerie new mixtape Here 2 Stay, a debut that’s trying to be drill’s version of My World 2.0 and process grief at the same time.
Understandably, DD is not entirely sure how to handle all of this. Songs that are supposed to be loved-up teenage pop-rap actually sound melancholy and fatalistic, even when they’re trying not to. On “Who I Am,” he flatly sing-raps about a girl that he’s fallen for. The song clearly wants to have the slick tone of “Yo (Excuse Me Miss)” but is unintentionally more like “Heart on Ice” as he lilts, “Been through a lot and I ain’t tryna’ lose you/Lost my brother this shit feels unusual.” Likewise “Be Alright” is a romance where everything is going pretty much fine in the lyrics yet the miserable-sounding ATL Jacob beat and DD’s quiet, cracking voice makes the depression feel inextricable.
Truthfully he doesn’t seem ready to be putting music out there. But the numbers are climbing fast, shows are selling out, and TikToks are being made, so the hype must be capitalized on. You won’t find many songs on Here 2 Stay that are inspired or at least therapeutic; DD’s candor comes out of obligation. He tries to make it work by adopting Lil Durk’s method of fluctuating between typical drill trash talk and traumatic personal reflections. But that style took Durk years to refine, and DD is being thrown into the fire. On “Leave Me,” when he lifelessly sings, “I just want my little brother, I don’t want fame no more,” it’s raw to the point of being unlistenable. His relative inexperience is clear on “Letter 2 Notti,” where his fast-rapping gets awkwardly jumbled as he tries to articulate a tribute to his brother without really having the words. I like it when he gets to have a little bit of fun: The club-drill record “Money Calls,” with Philly’s 2Rare, is a momentary break from having to confront fresh wounds. But that doesn’t last long.
Where else but rap are artists tasked with powering through life-altering events instantly? It’s cruel, isn’t it? The fear of transient fame is hung over their heads by bigwigs anxious to generate enough revenue before the next hot drill rapper comes along. As the money floods in, genuine stars who started attracting too much heat are getting hit with indictments and an opportunist like Lil Mabu is poking fun at the desperation and exploitation while raking in the views from his Upper East Side mansion. Is everyone thriving but the artists themselves? DD Osama’s rise isn’t a success story, it’s a dehumanizing one. At this point, that’s the usual in New York drill.