Though forever a voice for the trenches, the past year of success has positioned Lil Durk for his rightful takeover.
This past summer, Lil Durk officially announced his forthcoming album The Voice by releasing the titular single off of his follow-up to Just ‘Cause Y’all Waited 2. The album’s announcement was made out of spite. Just as 6ix9ine was running low on promotion fumes for his post-prison album Tattle Tales, he and Durk re-ignited their feud in a competition of numbers. Now, Durk never had a #1 album but neither has 6ix9ine, even though he’s had much more media coverage leading up to all three of his projects than Durk ever has. As it turned out, 6ix9ine’s camp had allegedly offered Durk millions of dollars to keep this game of back-and-forth up. Ultimately, the decision was the streets > $3 million.
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2020 has put Durk at a crossroads in his career. He’s bigger than he’s ever been -- on his own terms, at that -- yet he hasn’t drifted away from the sound that drew people in, in the first place. His evolution has found him perfecting his voice rather than stepping away from it. And finally, his reach is extending beyond the realm of hip-hop. Just Cause Y’all Waited 2 debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200, marking his highest-charting project to date. He also scored his first platinum certification with, “Homebody” ft. TK Kravitz and Gunna this past August. Along with keeping the OTF imprint moving at full force, including the release of King Von’s Welcome To O-Block this past Friday, Durk’s output has been impeccable, bodying every single track he’s released and feature he’s delivered. With a track record extending over the past eight years, Durk’s uncompromising consistency has made him one of the most trusted voices in the game right now, especially among rappers under 30.
For anyone following Durk’s career, his appearance on “Laugh Now Cry Later” felt like a long-deserved win for a criminally underrated artist. His short verse, which apparently was a result of the pandemic, drew a demand for a remix or even a part two with solely Durk. Even though he has a penchant for the softer side of drill music, “Laugh Now Cry Later” was his official foray into the world of pop. Those triumphant horns on the song feel especially fitting for Durk’s arrival.
He’s explored pop stardom even further, though it can be argued that projects like Just Cause Y’all Waited and Signed To The Streets 3 planted a seed for that to happen. He linked up with Queen Naija on the 90s R&B-tribute, “Lie To Me” and later reunited with her for the remix of Jeremih and Ne-Yo’s “U 2 Luv.” Though the R&B sounds are only fitting to his mold, like on his new single "Stay Down" ft. Young Thug & 6lack, it was his recent collaboration with BIA on the trap-pop “No Hands” that proved that just a touch of his magic can make all of this difference.
Pop is largely defined by the trending sound, rather than an actual genre itself. That’s why hip-hop has used it as a punchline rather than a categorization. Numbers do lie but they also carry a level of validity, especially when it boils down to chart placements and plaques. But if we’re keepin’ it a buck, a platinum certification doesn't hold the same weight it once did, ever since merch bundles came into play.
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Going platinum in the streets isn’t defined by a plaque or an RIAA certification but rather, the impact it’s had on people. And Durk’s impact is evident. He provided a dichotomy in drill, balancing harrowing ballads and murderous bangers, that artists like Polo G have adapted to his own success. Durk’s melodies speak to the pain. When the auto-tune gets pulled back, it’s the aggression in his tone that does all the talking. He offers emotional depth connected to the volatility of the streets. It’s how drill has influenced pockets of poverty across the world. Durk pulls at heartstrings with authentic storytelling, painful recounts of death and poverty, and painting his flaws in a relatable fashion for the world to see. Songs like “Higher” and “500 Homicides” speak directly to the bleak realities going on across America while a joint like “India” plants a seed for future love songs.
“The Voice” is an important single to Durk’s expansive discography. Durk’s maturity extends into his financial and political outlook. In recent times, he’s offered wise investment advice to his followers, and his maturity and growth, in that sense, has also informed his music. Durk’s voice is pain-riddled with flashbacks of the streets and legal issues that weigh on him but it's a timely reflection of the root of these problems. “Money ran low, right? Felons can’t vote, right?/ I can’t even vote for who I believe in, shit ain’t goin’ right,” he raps on the first verse. There's a harrowing reality behind those bars as his legal issues mount. Last year, the rapper was arrested on an attempted murder charge after a shooting that took place in Atlanta.
There are hefty responsibilities that come with being the self-imposed “voice of the streets.” Claiming such a title can sometimes be more harmful than good. Some rappers have committed deeply to being a voice for the streets, so much so, that that's often only where they’re heard, limiting their own room for growth. A voice for any group of people becomes a delegate that’s meant to shine a light on what’s being left in the dark. Durk’s connection to the trenches won’t fade away. The scars that come with that life are forever. Even as his trajectory directs him deeper into stardom, he will remain a voice for the streets and for the people.