Phonk Music: Everything You Need to Know

Phonk Music

You can easily find numerous playlists on YouTube with millions of streams. Given the excitement surrounding this new genre, many producers are curious about the history and music production techniques behind phonk music.

It’s always a good idea to stay informed about the latest trends in music production. So, let’s explore everything you need to know about phonk music, including its subgenres, origins, and production methods.

Ready to dive in!

What exactly is Phonk Music?

When discussing phonk, it’s impossible to overlook its direct influences from late nineties Memphis rap groups such as Three Six Mafia.

This legendary Memphis rap group pioneered a distinctive style of hip-hop production characterized by lofi-sounding drums, crunchy 808 cowbells, and uniquely sinister lyrics.

Listeners familiar with Three Six Mafia will immediately recognize its influence on phonk, particularly in how extensively phonk producers sample their rap vocals.

Phonk producers also utilize the same blown-out TR-808 cowbell that featured prominently in Memphis rap, repurposing it as a melody-driving synth tone.

The term “phonk” originates from “funk” and describes the additional soul, funk, and jazz samples utilized by early phonk producers like Lil Ugly Mane, DJ Smokey, and Mr. Sisco alongside chopped rap vocals.

As a general rule, phonk music incorporates samples treated with a lofi aesthetic, ethereal Memphis-inspired rap vocals, abundant 808 cowbell, and heavy bass synths to round out the arrangement.

Drift phonk and phonk

Drift phonk music is an electronic music genre initially designed to accompany rally car drifting videos. It heavily incorporates influences from Memphis rap, while intensifying the vibe with elements of house drum production and basslines inspired by dubstep.

Among the various sub-genres of phonk music, drift phonk stands out as one of the most prominent. However, numerous smaller genres exist, with certain producers aligning themselves with specific categories.

The origin of the drift phonk subgenre

Due to its close ties with the Russian drift video subculture, drift phonk music emerged in the late 2010s on the Russian social media platform, VK.

The track “Scary Garry” by Russian producer Kaito Shoma in 2018 is widely recognized as one of the original drift phonk songs, blending Three Six Mafia samples with remixed bass and blown-out TR-808 cowbell melodies.

Today, most drift phonk tracks originate on SoundCloud, with European producers like Kordhell, DVRST, DXRK, DJ Yung Vamp, Soudiere, and Mythic being among the genre’s most prominent figures.

How to make phonk music?

Whenever a new genre emerges, it often gives rise to a flurry of sub-genres, each bringing in new ideas, influences, and sounds.

In this section, we’ll examine the key characteristics shared among all subgenres of phonk music.

If you’re looking to create music inspired by this genre, you’ll need to experiment with these concepts.

So, let’s explore how to craft any phonk genre track in eight simple steps.

1. Obtain Lofi drum noises

Memphis trap features a distinctively lo-fi drum sound, so it’s common for phonk producers to blend the thin and wispy drum sounds from this style into their tracks.

In Memphis rap, the lo-fi drum sound typically includes crunchy hi-hats, compressed kicks with a somewhat flat and crunchy tone, and thin snares.

Overall, the lo-fi drum aspect of phonk music doesn’t overpower the mix in terms of volume or space; rather, it adds a retro, lo-fi texture to the sound.

2. Mix drums from house and hip-hop

Phonk’s preference for lo-fi doesn’t necessarily mean its drums are subdued or small sounding.

The genre’s incorporation of house and techno influences introduces larger drums into the mix, especially in drift phonk.

Producers frequently blend heavy four-on-the-floor house kicks, claps, and hats with subtle hip-hop drum programming.

To create compelling phonk music, mastering the art of programming both hip-hop and house drum patterns into your tracks is essential.

Step 2 to make phonk music 3. Try blown-out TR-808 cowbells as a synth stab

One sound that remains consistent across nearly every phonk track is the TR-808 cowbell sound.

You’ll often encounter a melody played using a heavily modified version of the original TR-808 cowbell.

Phonk producers commonly sample the cowbell sound from this iconic drum machine and then distort it using bit-crushing effects to create a loud and punchy effect.

Once distorted and bit-crushed, the cowbell sound serves as a sharp synth sound capable of cutting through any mix as a lead melody.

4. Include a substantial Bass line by Reese

Originating from 90s house and jungle music, the Reese bass has become synonymous with numerous electronic genres, making its presence in many phonk tracks quite expected.

The robust, swirling, and profound resonance of a Reese bass synth complements the impactful cowbell stabs, adding to the eerie and malevolent atmosphere commonly linked with phonk.

Step 4 to make phonk music 5. Inspired by trance, pads and leads

Given its Eastern European roots, it’s no surprise that 90s-style trance and eurodance synths are prevalent in phonk tracks.

Feel free to experiment with retro synths, whether it’s an arpeggiated lead or a subtle buzzing pad in the background.

Step 5 You can easily find such sounds using plugins that emulate vintage gear in your DAW, or by browsing through pad and lead samples on sample marketplaces.

Just like the iconic TR-808 cowbell sound, phonk producers aren’t shy about using distortion and bit-crushing effects on their synth sounds to achieve a crunchy, lo-fi vibe.

6. Telephone EQ-chopped vocals

In phonk music, it’s common to chop up vocals in a Memphis rap style and apply EQ to create a phone-like effect.

This technique, known as phone EQ, mimics the frequency bands removed by telephones for efficient voice transfer through fiber optic cables.

Typically, phone EQ involves a high-pass filter around 400Hz and a low-pass filter around 4,000Hz, allowing only midrange frequencies of the human voice to pass through.

However, a drawback of this EQ style is that it often places vocals low in the mix, particularly when paired with prominent kicks and synths.

7. Try sidechain compression

Sidechain compression is a widely used mixing technique found across various electronic music genres, and phonk music is known for its extensive utilization of it.

If you notice the volume momentarily decreasing with each kick hit, it’s likely due to sidechain compression, where the mix is linked to a compressor triggered by the kick drum. This technique enhances the impact of kicks by creating space for them in the mix.

At its extreme settings, sidechaining can result in overly pronounced kick sounds, a characteristic often pursued by phonk producers.

While there’s much to explore about sidechaining in your tracks, most digital audio workstations (DAWs) can easily handle this technique. Just be cautious not to overpower the rest of your mix with the kicks.

8. Be imaginative when selecting your synths

Explore your favorite phonk playlist and you’ll encounter a plethora of variety in phonk productions.

Drawing influence from contemporary EDM, expect to encounter wobbling dubstep synths and powerful saw leads. Additionally, you might encounter background choir pads contributing to an ominous atmosphere or male voice synths delivering haunting lead lines.

Overall, phonk music aims to evoke an ominous, aggressive, and sometimes sinister ambiance. To achieve this, select synths that resonate with these feelings, adhere to a minor key, and experiment with diverse lines and lo-fi chord progressions.


Learning about where a new music style comes from and how it changes over time is always interesting.

Phonk is a cool mix of old-school Memphis hip-hop, electronic music from Europe, and EDM.

Now that you know a bit about it, why not try making your own track in this genre?

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