A throng of teenagers are chasing a double-decker bus through Manhattan’s Washington Square Park hoping to get a glimpse of Brooklyn drill sensations 41, a group comprised of Brooklynites Jenn Carter, Kyle Richh, and TaTa. Republic Records, their label, wrapped the bus with their faces and invited fans to join them on a ride through Manhattan. The hourslong journey is a big occasion because New York City isn’t so keen on letting artists in this scene hold events to interact with their fans.
Despite Eric Adams calling himself New York’s first “Hip-Hop Mayor,” he’s the latest official to continue the city’s contentious relationship with its rap stars, especially from the drill scene. Pop Smoke never got to headline a show in his home city before dying at 20. Sheff G has been open about having his shows suit down and was arrested as part of a 32-person, 140-count gang indictment earlier this year. But 41 is vying to break that cycle with their fun, Jersey Club-inspired takes on drill exemplified by fun tracks like “Bent,” a single from their 41 World: Not The Album EP, which they dropped while prepping an album that could vault them from tri-state area stardom into the national consciousness.
Timberland jokes aside, the world is always enthralled by whatever’s hot in New York; Ice Spice’s rapid rise is just the latest example. 41 could be next. They’re all distinctive and charismatic in their own way. When asked what each member brings to the group, TaTa points to each member and succinctly notes, “The lyrics (Jenn Carter), the voice (Kyle Rich), and the energy (himself).”
That dangerous combo has garnered them over three million Spotify Listeners and millions of streams on YouTube. They dropped the infamous “Notti Bop” diss, which at one point trended no. 1 worldwide on YouTube and spurred a morbid TikTok dance trend. But beyond the controversy, there are also hits like “Deuce,” “Fetty,” and the Soulja Boy-sampling “Stomp Stomp.” Their 18-million view On The Radar freestyle is the highest video on the buzzing YouTube channel, even outpacing chart-toppers Drake and Central Cee. They’re one of the most intriguing acts to watch heading into 2024 — but they’re also college-aged kids.
When the bus meets them near Republic’s office, they giddily hop around on the top level like kids on a field trip. Richh is kneeling on the bus’ side railing, and his friends ask him to get off. “When you ever seen me fall off a bus?!,” he hilariously retorts about something that has indeed never happened to a rapper. Today’s journey takes them from Republic’s studios in Chelsea to the UMG headquarters in Columbus Circle — but it all started in Brooklyn.
All three artists grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Carter and Richh met through their parents and grew up seeing each other around the neighborhood. “[Richh] was always around. I don’t know how to explain it,” Carter tells me while sitting next to the guys in a studio room. “I would see him in the weirdest places.” Richh laughingly recalls, “On my dead, I seen Jenn at church one day.” Carter says they went to middle school together, but Richh “kept being in and out of school.” TaTa says he was rapping since the sixth grade, while Richh says he started at seven but took an intermission until his teenage years because “I had the squeaky voice.”
All three said that their first recording experience was on the BandLab app, which allowed them to emulate the home studio experience from their phone. “BandLab is how I got my flow,” Richh says. “You [were able] to really perfect your craft,” All three artists spent their teenage years honing their skills individually while navigating the streets of Brownsville, where they’ve lived a life in proximity to the realities of their gruff lyrics.
TaTa and Richh started taking their career seriously in the late 2010s, but Carter, who started rapping at 17, was mainly writing for her own sake. She says she wrote songs to 50 Cent beats and recorded them on BandLab for personal gratification. During the COVID quarantine, Richh asked her to come to the studio and record with the rest of their friends. In time, 41 member Dee Billz introduced TaTa to Richh and Carter during a studio session, and the trio experienced an immediate creative spark. When asked what made them realize their chemistry, Richh doesn’t overthink it: “Since the first song, bro, it was just there.”
It’s easy to see what he means. Our conversation often meandered into tangents as they joked and bantered with each other, including an extended discussion on TaTa’s water and sugar consumption (TaTa called his mother for backup against Richh and Carter’s condemnation of his diet). At one point Richh and TaTa begin to discuss something confidential and they abruptly clam up in front of me and the others in the room. Their rapport during our hourlong discussion elucidates that 41 is no mere business arrangement.
“When I was in the studio, it’s 10 people all in the stu, and I only got 30 minutes,” Carter says about the early days. “I’d rather get on a song with my mans than do my own shit. That’s really how it was. I ain’t going to even lie. Making songs with my mans is cool! Especially, because it’s putting him on, it’s putting me on. We helping each other.”
And now they’re taking on the city today. It’s my first time on a double-decker bus, and I’m immediately realizing how close it is to Manhattan’s assortment of tree branches, street signs, and street lights. Others on the back of the bus (who shall remain nameless) are acknowledging that proximity and being mischievous in a way you’d expect from early 20somethings. Two kids on the street notice the bus a couple blocks away from Washington Square Park and scream out TaTa’s name. He stands up and belts, “We outside!” Republic staff quickly asked him to follow the bus’ rules and sit back down while it was moving. TaTa, in a Black fur coat (with MSCHF Big Red Boots), is the only person on the whole bus dressed for the chilly elements. He affirms when I ask him if he wore the fur because he knew it would be this cold, but I still get the sense it’s as much flash as function.
About 20 kids are waiting for the bus’ first stop at Washington Square Park, including the two kids who ran several blocks to meet the group — unfortunately, they’re under 18 and can’t take the ride. One woman asks “Where’s Jenn?!” in a way that would be perceived as a tad aggressive if this weren’t New York City. She eventually makes it onto the bus and to the back where Carter is, though I don’t hear their conversation. Unfortunately, it’s not all good vibes; a member of the 41 entourage notices a cop from their local Brownsville precinct at the stop and references an unfavorable interaction they had with them. They’re in an entirely different borough from Brownsville; even on a celebratory day, the city establishment’s surveillance of the rap scene persists.
Many overlook the NYPD’s predacity because hip-hop isn’t gifted the artistic license of other music genres; the drill scene in particular has long faced reductive criticism that it’s nothing but gang members dissing each other. That perception has hindered artists’ ability to put on shows and other public events. In 2022, Hot 97 DJ Drewski said that he would no longer play songs that included disses toward dead rivals — that was before 41’s “Notti Bop,” a controversial diss toward late rapper Notti Osama, who was fatally stabbed in 2022. The song’s “bop” dance simulates someone being stabbed. The song and dance went viral, with some gawking at how incendiary it was, and others obliviously dancing along because it was a TikTok trend.
The group gained infamy for the song, which they don’t say much about nowadays. But beyond the sensationalism surrounding the song, one should consider the factors that created it. The Backyardigans sample is zany, but consider the actual lyrics they looped: “We are castaways, we’re stuck where we are / With no house, no car.” A whopping 32.3% of Brownsville and Ocean Hill residents live below the poverty line, which is almost triple the national average of 12.6%. The 41 members are coming from neighborhoods deprived by civic negligence that indicates there’s no expectation, or perhaps even desire, for them to make it out of poverty. Many people they grew up around are indeed stuck where they are. It’s unfair for the city brass to essentially sustain an inequitable city but then also condemn the artistry of those toiling in its poorer parts. Mayor Adams once suggested a ban on drill music; if he’s that mortified by the gall of songs like “Notti Bop,” he’d be better served to provide their communities more opportunity.
That’s probably not happening tomorrow though, so until then, 41 says they’re aware of the genre’s criminalization and moving accordingly. “I ain’t going to lie, [the stigma] is a lot,” Ricch says. “[The] drill scene came with a lot of violence, all that bullshit, you feel me? So we came out of that.” TaTa adds, “They trying to stop the drill music. We think it’s fun. A new vibe. Evolve the sound a little bit. Because music changes every day. People keep saying drill going to die. Drill is not dying, it’s just turning into something new. Just like how hip-hop turned into something new.” They reference wanting to bring “fun to drill,” and also say they’re no longer interested in dissing. Richh says, “We stopped feeding into the bullshit” and TaTa adds, “When you ignore them, it’s better bro.”
That’s not to say they’re completely above throwing a shot. A couple of months ago, rapper Deeplay4keeps criticized Jenn Carter on Instagram Live. Carter decided to make light of the moment, sampling Dee’s sarcastic “Jenn Jenn Jenn” comment and turning it into “JennJennJenn,” a fun, uptempo diss that feels more in the realm of Drake’s “Back To Back” or 50 Cent’s “Window Shopper” than a flagrantly disrespectful diss. When I ask Carter about it, she’s terse about it in the way a basketball player who just scored 50 can let the stats speak for themselves.
“Oh, ‘Jenn, Jenn, Jenn’ was just… I ain’t going to lie. I sampled somebody saying, ‘Jenn, Jenn, Jenn.’ I got on the beat, and I talked about whoever wants to talk about me,” she says with a sly grin. She’s also cryptically satisfied with the song’s feedback: “I like how a lot of people chanting ‘Jenn, Jenn, Jenn.’ Feel me?” From early on in our conversation, I noticed how reserved she was, mostly lounging back in her chair until her food arrived. Even on the bus, she played things lowkey while others were more animated; she seems observant in the way that many great lyricists are. Her humble beast demeanor probably helps Richh and TaTa be so deferential about crowning her the best rapper in the group, and one of the hottest artists in the city. One of 41’s trademarks is Kyle Richh is throwing Carter the alley by rhyming “I’mma kick to Jenn” as he does on “Bent,” the group’s latest single.
The drunk night chronicle is a glimpse of where their sound is going. The Mcvert and Synthetic-produced record has Jersey Club drums, but also a slow grooving synth that’s ripe for mass appeal; perhaps that’s why Lil Uzi Vert recently called them “the new sound of hip-hop.” Busriders got to hear the “Bent” remix with Sexyy Red early, as well as a slew of unreleased tracks with each synth composition sounding more mesmerizing than the last. It’s a testament to their fan support that I haven’t seen any leaks of the tracks, which I’m eager to hear again.
“We was mad locally lit, but we was living in the hood,” TaTa recalls. “I used to be waking up, walking to the store [for a] bacon, egg, and cheese [and we’d] see all the kids [getting on] the school bus. They used to be going crazy.” But now all three members said they’re no longer living in Brownsville as they’re on the road to stardom. They tell me about wanting to travel to Africa, collaborate with the likes of Drake, and go diamond. Despite their progress, they all say they don’t feel like they’ve made it. For Richh, the mindset is, “Always feel satisfied, but don’t ever be complacent. You got to always keep going.“
It’s just after 5 PM, and due to a later obligation, I have to hop off the bus before the final destination at the UMG office. I asked them to let me off near the Rolling Stone offices. Serendipitously, I realize they let me off right on 41st Street. But then again, I tell myself, every block in Manhattan was 41’s that day.