Photos by Joe Moore, courtesy of Lil Durk
Horsing around with his friends and chasing them down the sidewalk, Lil Durk seems almost like a new person. Compared to the quiet, matter-of-fact way he's presented himself to strangers in the past, he's downright giddy now. His clothes are simple and close-fitting—just skinny jeans and a T-shirt—a relaxed change from the flashier, all-white, I'm-A-Rapper look he was favoring around this time last year. He wears a sweet-smelling cologne. When he talks about making music, his eyes light up. The Chicago rapper is 23 years old and quite successful. He appears, for the first time in his music career, fully comfortable being that way.
Ever since he emerged into the national spotlight as part of a new wave of Chicago drill rappers nearly five years ago, Lil Durk has had a narrative forced on him. Most rappers, let alone most people in their early 20s, aren't asked to account for the challenges of an entire city, but Lil Durk, as the drill scene's most enduring commercial success, found himself pushed into the role of spokesman for Chicago violence, most notably on his grim debut album for Def Jam, Remember My Name. That project drew out the dark undertones of mixtape favorites like “Bang Bros” and “L's Anthem” and made them explicit, mostly losing sight of the jubilant tone and sonic innovation that made Lil Durk's music stand out in the first place.
Lil Durk 2X, the follow-up, is almost a complete 180, an album that returns Durk to his place in the conversation as one of the artists who helped kickstart the resurgence of Auto-Tune and the trend of melodically driven rap songs. With tracks like 2012's “Molly Girl,” Durk was chasing a similar idea to what people like Future and Young Thug were doing in Atlanta at the same time, and, fittingly, some of the only artists who make the cut to appear alongside Durk on his new album are Future and Young Thug. The Yo Gotti collaboration “Money Walk,” meanwhile, is the kind of straightforward banger Durk's always had in him but never quite pulled together—a refined, pop-structured take on the energy of his “52 Bars” track series. And then there's “Super Powers,” an heir to the smoothly drifting, technicolor world Durk was exploring on Life Ain't No Joke and Still a Hitta, cleaned up and refined from years of experience. Durk's music was hinting at the pop possibilities of this sound years ago, and, now that the rest of music has finally caught up to it, he's well equipped to score a hit.
Durk recently stopped by the VICE office in New York to talk about his new album on Noisey Radio on Beats1—listen to the episode here—and share some perspectives on everything from working with Young Thug to steak tacos.
Noisey: What’s your new album all about?
Lil Durk: Two Times: There isn’t a big meaning behind it, that’s just what they call me now. I look at it like a second chance. There’s more happy music, fun music. I enjoyed myself more with this album. The last album was more serious. I took my time with it. I still love it because it’s my first album, but this album’s got more potential hits to it. It’s more uptempo—something different.
Everybody calls you Two Times now? Where did that come from?
They just started calling me that out the blue. Everybody has their little alter egos, the name people calls them. Everybody just calls me two times, and then I thought about it and was like I’m just going to make that the album.
Tell me about working with Future. You guys also had that song you did with Zona Man, “Mean to Me.”
Yeah, it was cool, too, but it was through a third party. It was a favor for Zona Man, that’s my boy. Shout out Zona Man. He was like “me and Future want you on this song.” But the last three, four, five songs we got I was in the studio creating with him, so now I know the recording process. The energy was just there. Southside was there. He made the beats, and we were just going.
What was that like? I can see you getting excited just talking about it, so it must’ve been pretty cool.
Yeah, if you working with somebody you want to work with you’re going to have fun with it, and we were in there just vibing. The shit is just good because he came from where we came from, so he understands the struggle and trying to get past that breaking point. He definitely gave us an alley-oop on a song he got coming up on his new project.
Stylistically you guys are closely aligned in the way that you use Auto-Tune. Is that something you guys have talked about at all?
Yeah that’s what makes it fun. I melodize; he melodize. He knows how to rap; I know how to rap. Let’s just go in here and make some magic.
When you were first coming up Auto-Tune was not cool. It was kind of out of fashion. It was just you, Future, and a couple other people using it, doing that sing-song rap thing. Now that sound is everywhere. What’s that like for you to witness? Does that change the way you think about it at all?
Yeah, definitely a lot of people pay attention to it. A little minute ago I was talking to Birdman, and he was telling me, “Rich Homie and them do it, but you started that, nephew, I see you.” I was like yeah, “I’m glad you see.” I like credit when it’s due.
How did working with Young Thug come together?
Same energy like Future in the studio. We got the same type of style: the melodic, we go all day. Me and Future, we got like five in the cut, but me and Thug probably got like eight to ten. Me and Thug are supposed to be working on a tape, Lil Durk Thugger. but he’s been moving around on tour, I’ve been moving around, and we just ain’t going to put anything together. But the tape’s still going to come about.
OK, I have a few quick, fun questions. Who was the first celebrity you had a crush on?
Shakira—that as a long time ago!
What about Shakira?
Her hips! You know how she do.
Making it out the hood and being able to support my family. And that’s what I’m doing, so I accomplished my goal.
Mymixtapes because they have all the music. You’re on the plane, you can download all the new mixtapes. It keeps me updated.
Is there a particular taco spot?
Steak tacos are just my favorite period. Just spicy, that’s my favorite.
Favorite record growing up?
“Crossroads” by Bone Thugs. When I first saw the video it was interesting. It caught my eyes as a shorty, so I knew that was one of my favorite joints coming up.
The hundred sign because I’m always going to be 100.
Do you remember your first cellphone?
Yeah my first cellphone was a USA La Flip blue. That was my first cellphone I ever had. The bill was high as hell, but I still liked it.
What about favorite tattoo?
It’s my OTF on my arm.
What about your first tattoo and why did you get that?
“Blessed” on my neck. I was just trying to be different. It definitely caught a lot of attention.
I saw online you just got a Black Lives Matter tattoo. What made you want to get that?
What’s going on today, it really got to me, and it’s hard to get to me. How I explained to everybody else and my mom when I got it is of course all lives matter, but at this point the bullshit is going on with the blacks. This is what it is at the moment.
What’s your favorite thing on Netflix?
Narcos! That movie is amazing, the way you can see him running his whole operation like that. He’s not going to war with a block, he’s not going to war with a city—he’s going to war with the government So if you watch it’s like damn he had all that money to go to war with the government. He was blowing up tanks, courthouses. I’m like, “damn, this is how it really was.”
Kyle Kramer is an editor at Noisey. Follow him on Twitter.