What is phonk music? The hip hop subgenre to add intensity to your videos

Discover the new subgenre that's taken the creator world by storm and find out how it can add intensity to your videos.

Shane McKenna
Image accompanying a blog post explaining what is phonk music.

Phonk has taken the creator world by storm in recent years. Even if you’re wondering what phonk is, there’s a good chance you’ve already heard it while scrolling TikTok or watching YouTube videos. So what is phonk music? And how has it appeared out of nowhere to dominate our feeds? 

Providing a clear-cut definition of phonk can be tricky, as is often the case with subgenres. Phonk has roots in the world of hip hop, but has evolved into something much closer to EDM. This makes it perfect for creators looking to add intensity to their videos, and is particularly popular for car edits and workout content.

So if you’re looking at adding phonk energy to your edits, dive into our guide on what phonk music is. You’ll learn about how this distinctive sound has developed over the years, and find out where to safely download phonk music for your videos.

What type of music is phonk? And is drift phonk different?

Image of a drifting car in the phonk aesthetic.

Phonk is a subgenre of hip hop which can be directly traced back to the Memphis rap scene in the late 80s. The hip hop coming out of Memphis at this time featured crisp beats and a heavy use of samples, similar in sound to its wildly popular cousin gangsta rap. 

Fast forward a couple of decades and you’ll find the influence of Memphis rap’s slow tempo beats in trap music. Artists then took this blueprint and added a darker sound to create phonk. This new hip hop subgenre grew in popularity during the early 2010s, spreading quickly across sites like YouTube and SoundCloud. 

Social media would play a big part in phonk’s evolution into drift phonk too, with TikTok’s explosion giving rise to this new subgenre. The sound of drift phonk is almost unrecognizable in comparison with the original genre, sounding instead like sped up and distorted phonk hip hop.

But this new subgenre quickly became far more popular than the phonk which came before it, with many people referring to the drift phonk subgenre simply as phonk. In fact, drift phonk is so dominant that even Spotify’s multi-million listener ‘phonk’ playlist is actually filled with drift phonk music.


Drift phonk became popular within TikTok’s car community for soundtracking high octane clips of drifting. As you can guess, this is where the name drift phonk came from.

How is phonk pronounced?

The term was popularized by SpaceGhostPurrp with tracks like Bringing the Phonk where the pronunciation is the same as ‘funk.’ The rapper confirmed the origin of the term in a 2012 interview, explaining that phonk is simply slang for funk.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a genre meaning different things to different people, there’s quite a bit of confusion around how ‘phonk’ is pronounced. As the term has become increasingly associated with the drift phonk subgenre, an alternative pronunciation rhyming with ‘donk’ has become more accepted too.

What does phonk sound like?

Image of a CD containing phonk music styled in the phonk aesthetic.

Let’s start with the original phonk genre, which borrows its sound from the Memphis rap scene that inspired it. Phonk hip hop features heavy Memphis-style drums at a slow tempo similar to trap music, combining this with a distinctive lofi feel

You’ll often hear smooth soul or jazzy samples, and chilled-out or distorted vocals. By bringing all of these elements together, phonk often has a mysterious or slightly eerie atmosphere.

Does drift phonk or 808 cowbell sound different?

Drift phonk shares some of the calling cards of phonk, like the lofi aesthetic and use of samples. But typically drift phonk speeds things up with mid-tempo beats and pounding basslines echoing the adrenaline rush of car drifting.

You’re also likely to hear catchy hooks and synthetic sounds which make drift phonk sound closer to EDM than hip hop. In particular, drift phonk tracks tend to feature a trademark distorted cowbell sound, which is why this subgenre is often also referred to as 808 cowbell.


Head to Uppbeat’s playlist of phonk music to hear the finest copyright-free drift phonk about. You’ll get a flavor of what drift phonk sounds like and you can start downloading tracks for free too!

Phonk music: A brief history

Images of popular phonk artists.

We’ve already touched on how phonk has evolved from classic hip hop through to a subgenre much closer to EDM. But to fully grasp the differences between phonk and drift phonk, it’s worth looking at how they’ve developed over time.

1980s: The Memphis rap scene

Phonk’s journey started with the Memphis rap scene of the late 80s. Influential rap legends like Three 6 Mafia and DJ Screw started creating slow tempo, distorted beats mixed together with vintage funk and soul samples. It created a distinctive ambience which would carry through into phonk’s trademark sound.

2010s: The birth of phonk hip hop

In the early-2010s, Miami rapper SpaceGhostPurrp emerged with a sound heavily influenced by the dark vibes of Three 6 Mafia’s early music. Together with Lil Uzi Vert, SpaceGhostPurrp brought this slowed-down, distorted version of Memphis rap into the mainstream, racking up millions of listens on SoundCloud.

Its popularity was solidified with the rise of YouTube playlists from the likes of Ryan Celsius which set chilled-out phonk beats to grainy, nostalgic footage.

Late 2010s: TikTok drives the popularity of drift phonk and 808 cowbell

Drift phonk exploded in popularity less than a decade after the emergence of phonk, thanks to the rise of TikTok. The subgenre became the go-to soundtrack for fast-paced video montages of car drifting and clips from the JDM car scene.

Drift phonk quickly became even more popular than phonk hip hop with artists like Ghostface Playa, KUTE and Kordhell racking up hundreds of millions of listens on Spotify with their distorted beats.

How to use phonk in your videos

Examples of car drifting and workout videos that work well with phonk music.

While phonk and drift phonk have different signature sounds, they’ve both been embraced by creators. Phonk hip hop’s distinctive chilled-out vibe has made it a popular sound for YouTubers like Ryan Celsius to create live streams for people to listen along to. 

Even if you’re not livestreaming, laid-back phonk beats are perfect for urban explorers and creators hunting for a mellow backing track. Or if it’s spooky season, the unnerving ambience of phonk hip hop can give a cool edge to haunting Halloween content.

On the other hand, using drift phonk will add a completely different feel to your videos. Its dark, hypnotic beats have become the go-to sound for creators looking to add energy and moody vibes to their content. 

You’ll often see health creators using the intense drift phonk beats to soundtrack gym workouts. Similarly, the almost EDM-like energy of 808 cowbell tracks fit perfectly with fast-paced car edits. And as drift phonk becomes more popular, creators are getting ever more inventive with how they use its intensity to make footage feel even more dramatic.

Download phonk music for your video content

Screenshot of the Uppbeat copyright-free music catalog's phonk playlist.

Now you’re familiar with the signature sound of drift phonk, you’ll start hearing it everywhere. Creators across TikTok, YouTube and beyond can’t get enough of its dark brooding beats and hypnotic basslines.

That’s why we’ve worked with the world’s best artists to create a playlist of copyright-free drift phonk bangers that are safe to use in your videos. Listen to our collection of phonk music and start downloading tracks for free on Uppbeat.


Listen to a selection of dark phonk beats to download and add intensity to your videos.

Download phonk music from Uppbeat

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