Ask yourself this: What comes to mind when you hear Chicago? President Obama? The Bulls? Deep-dish pizza? Whether it’s a team, food, or even something much deeper, chances are that whatever it is, Lil Durk’s take is most likely vastly different. Words that pop into Lil Durk’s mind might consist of things such as the streets, violence, tragedy, triumph or, more importantly, home. For Durk Banks, his Chicago stomping grounds are a part of who he is intrinsically—not only an obvious extension of his music and artistry, but the formative vessel for who he is as a man and, ultimately, as a father. The city of Chicago is a well-documented landscape that is highly scrutinized for being one of America’s most dangerous destinations, but like a phoenix from the ashes, great things arise from some of the most untenable situations.
An outsider might view Durk’s accession as his having proverbially “arrived.” A XXL Freshmen cover, a successful Def Jam debut and a major social media following may leave some rappers complacent; Durk, however, is not. Slated for a July 22 release, his forthcoming sophomore album, Lil Durk 2X, is a sonic reflection of his taking the creative reins and doing something he is adamant about this time around: having fun. His sophomore effort allows for the Chi-town rapper to transform what was once his melodic brand of drill music into a genre-blending amalgam of diversity amidst 14 songs. Durk possesses a firm understanding of his continuous rise and puts in the requisite effort it takes to maintain a spot in today’s music world. He and a seeming majority of the youth residing in the confines of Chicago’s treachery are underdogs—the forgotten kids whose talents are finally receiving much-deserved recognition due to hip-hop and its boundless reach. 2X represents exactly that: a second chance to create and evolve, and to do so on his terms. Sure, features like Young Thug, Ty Dolla $ign, Future and DeJ Loaf (whose enigmatic affinity for Durk seems impenetrable by acquiring minds, and vice versa) give the album the fire power it needs to be a legitimate Def Jam release. In reality though, Lil Durk has what it takes to carry a project on his own. From mixtape series like “I’m a Hitta” and “Signed to the Streets” to even his first album, "Remember My Name", he’s demonstrated a rare and bona fide understanding of relationships and artist coalition building. And while the long list of talented artists he’s collaborated with have added great dimension to the music, Durk’s street mentality and crossover appeal are more prevalent than enough.
The ability to make music that has a little something for everyone has never been more evident from Durk than now. Tracks like “Hated On Me” (with Future) and “Glock Up” represent the ruggedly overt nature of his street values, while cuts like “She Just Wanna” (with Ty $), “Super Powers” and “My Beyoncé” (with DeJ) explore the softer, more tender, introspective side of his personality. "Lil Durk 2X" is the sound of maturation, an inside look at an artist whose tragedy-ridden hometown has motivated him to step back, observe, promote beautiful change in the community, and actually enjoy the process of making music. Blame it on upbringing or chalk it up to fatherhood; either way, Lil Durk’s grown beyond his years, and with new rap hopefuls popping up daily, his blueprint is constantly strategic. Durk is embarking on a new chapter. With a growing family, less outside noise, an album on the way, and a city on his back, it’s time for Durk to make a major cultural impact—the second time around.
RESPECT.: Lil Durk 2X is a major sophomore release for you. What’s the biggest takeaway from this project? Not only for your fans but for you on a personal level?
Lil Durk: Man, I basically just wanted to have fun with it, play around with it more. We wanted it to have more potential hits. We didn’t just wanna give them anything, you know? A lot of the music has been serious; on this I wanted it to be club bangers, songs for females, stuff like that instead of just all street music. I get good vibes from it, a lot of feel-good music. If you listen to “Hated On Me” with Future, you know it’s for the streets. “Set it Off” is for the struggle. “Rich Ni**a” is, of course, self-explanatory.
Your evolution as an artist has really taken shape from the “I’m a Hitta,” “Signed to the Streets” series, et cetera. What motivates you to continuously grow musically? Do you find your kids and family are constant inspiration?
My everyday living and everything around me. Everything I see. I’m still not where I wanna be, so I’m just motivated to go even harder. The family is automatic, you already know. [Laughs]
There are some big names involved—Future, Ty Dolla $ign, Young Thug, DeJ Loaf twice. What’s your process like when choosing the best-fitting artists to create with?
I really like to rock with who I have relationships with, honestly. That’s what makes it more fun. When it’s strictly all about the business, there’s just pressure on the music. I really just had fun with it this time around; it’s way better like that. When I was making Lil Durk 2X, I just used my relationships. I said who I wanted on it, made some calls and they sent it through. That’s what it be like.
Which is the most valuable feature for you on the album?
Man, I appreciate all the features. I couldn’t pick the most valuable, you know what I’m sayin’? But you have to appreciate what Future does for a record.
You have DeJ Loaf on “My Beyoncé” and “Good Good.” Is “My Beyoncé” a concept record or more of a personal dialogue?
Yeah, everything we do, we’re basically just speaking on a situation I got going, or anything we’re doing right now. When we make music, we’re relating to people. They really wanna know what we’re going through, so I tell ’em listen to the music and they’ll hear it.
2X consists of authentic trap records and even dabbles in the pop lane with “Super Powers.” Are you conscious of trying to tackle different lanes? Why do you feel you have crossover success?
I just wanna feel good. Like when I made “Super Powers,” that day I just wanted to make some feel-good music. It’s catchy but different. Unless I have something on my mind I wanna get out, records are all about how I feel. Everything starts to sound the same, too, so as an artist, you have to try different things to see what works. As far as crossover success, I feel like my music and approach have always been different. Even when I first started, I put a lot of melodies to my music. People looked at me kind of crazy for that, but I knew it would set me apart from everything.
Does the notion of being just a drill rapper from Chicago even apply at this point in your early career? Safe to say the mission has always been to reach every avenue in music?
That’s where I came from and that’s what I know, but at the same time, I wanna be big with it. I wanna go beyond just the drill music. Of course I always am going to talk for and be a part of the streets. That’s me. That’s what I know.
Let’s go a different direction and talk about Chicago. How accurate is the violent depiction of your hometown? Having that status that you do, do you feel a sense of responsibility to at least attempt to make change?
It’s actually bad, man. When I speak on it, I’m not happy to say it, but it’s violent. It’s crazy. I hope and wish for it to get better, and we’re gonna do all we can to slow it down, you know? The violence probably won’t ever stop, but we’re gonna slow it down. I’m with it; I know other rappers from Chicago are with it, we all with it. Anybody with a voice has a responsibility anyway. So I want to put my voice to use.
What’s the mission as far as expanding OTF?
I’m just trying to be smart with every move. Whether it be artists, fashion brands or whatever, I just want to be smart with it.
What does this album capture and embody that Remember My Name didn’t? And with this being your sophomore album, are you concerned about the slump that some artists fear?
There were just a lot of people around with different ideas on Remember My Name. It was really half me and half outside input. This album is all me. I keep saying it, but the album is just more fun. Instead of being so serious and listening to other people’s ideas, I made it about myself and what I care about. I was just worried about how the first album would be; now I put my own creativity and my team’s thoughts into this album. Sophomore slump? I ain’t worried about none of that. [Laughs] If you make good music and stand what you stand for, you don’t have to worry about none of that.
Obviously, you’re going to let it run its course, but any future plays already in the works?
Just focusing on touring and collab-ing with other artists. Really getting back to the basics. Keeping my head above water and relevant. Just always being in the mix.
RESPECT. Founder: Jonathan Rheingold
Photographer: Trevor Sage-EL
Senior Editor: Jasmina Cuevas
Writer: Jake Mayo
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