Rapid rises are a common thing in today’s music scene. We often see artists seemingly come out of nowhere, ascending up the charts with only a handful of singles. Many come and many go in this current era, where playlists occupy our daily listening experience and introduce us to new hits every week. In such a fast-moving climate, longevity is a challenge. How can one keep up with the new trends? Sure, that song is nice, but can it generate a TikTok dance? Staying relevant can be one heck of a battle, and your only armour is the ability to adapt.
This is what makes Lil Durk such an anomaly. In a scene where years can make you yield, the Chicago rapper has only become bigger. You’re breathing rarified air if you’re reaching your prime a decade into your career, but there’s no actual evidence that this is even Durk at peak performance. In fact, history says otherwise, as a slew of mixtapes and albums have commandeered a quest from underground king, to Billboard mainstay. When it comes to the battle of relevance, Durk has spent a long time on the frontlines to position himself as a warrior that can’t be weathered, and the journey he’s trudged to wield the sword has been nothing short of spectacular.
Lil Durk’s initial come-up dates all the way back to 2012, around the volcanic eruption that was Chicago’s drill scene. This subgenre of hip-hop combined elements of trap, horrorcore, and Memphis rap in a way that resembled the cold Winters of Chicago, and the adversity these young people faced in the streets. Mixtapes such as Chief Keef’s Back From The Dead made him the subject of record label bidding wars, and the late, great Fredo Santana’s It’s A Scary Site detailed the struggles of Chicago’s larger-than-life characters in chilling, 808-heavy audio documentaries.
With stand-out projects like I’m Still A Hitta and Life Ain’t No Joke, Durk slid effortlessly into the drill mix. His unique, autotune-drenched approach to the style set him apart from his contemporaries, and lead into 2013’s DJ-Drama hosted mixtape Signed To The Streets; the home to early standout tracks like ‘Dis Ain’t What U Want’. This project in particular is important because it showcased how fast Durk was evolving as a musician, with Pitchfork writing “[Durk] continues to straddle the blurry line between singing and rapping, and his songwriting has grown tighter and more evocative with time.” The mixtape today stands at over 900.000 listens and 600,000 downloads on DatPiff.
What followed the large buzz he generated with mixtapes was years of consistency, with almost too much output to cover in a single article. He signed to Def Jam for his debut album Remember My Name in 2015 and its 2016 follow-up Lil Durk 2X, polishing the early days of his sound with a radio-ready gloss. This run included the gold-certified ‘Like Me’ with Jeremih and platinum single ‘My Beyonce’ featuring Dej Loaf, highlighting the hitmaking potential Durk possessed. But this wasn’t a jump-off point for superstardom like many expected, and in a lot of cases, that could mean an eventual fade into obscurity. But Durk stayed consistent, winning over pundits on r/hiphopheads with mixtapes like 300 Days, 300 Nights, and popping up on guest verses for the likes of Young Thug. What some may have been viewed as a final frenzy to stay relevant at the time, was Durk prospect building a solid fanbase.
Lil Durk’s slow-grind really started to pick up steam in 2018, where cultivating a cult-like fanbase and staying consistent positioned him as a dark horse veteran amongst the slew of yearly hip-hop newcomers. Durk’s style had shifted, finding his talents over more trap-infused beats, while testing his vocal warbles. He also had begun building buzz for his label OTF, releasing compilation projects such as Only The Family Involved Vol.1. Solidifying himself as a tastemaker, and a talent that strikes the iron until it’s hot, his album Love Songs For The Streets 2 saw him obtain his first top 5 album on the Billboard 200.
Since then, it’s been up and up for Durk’s trajectory. 2020 saw him release both Just Cause Y’all Waited 2 and The Voice, which both debuted in the second slot on the charts. In 2021 he achieved his first number 1 album alongside Lil Baby with their collaborative project Voice of The Heroes. He’s appeared on songs from up and comers like Nardo Wick, certified legends like Drake and even displayed his versatility with crossover tracks like 2021’s ‘Broadway Girls’. Durk’s signature melodies have become a staple in the scene, appearing everywhere, and delivering every time.
So what does 2022 hold for Durkio? History only proposes ascension. He’s already delivered a verse on Gucci Mane’s single ‘Rumors’ spitting highlight bars like ‘Tryna gossip up the blogs like you ain’t said my name first.’ It seems as if after such a long time, he’s motivated by his veteran status, and ready to talk his ish. Who can blame him? It’s been a decade of grind, thriving against the odds of a short-attention-span climate, and the rapid changing of musical trends. He’s played a major part in innovating the sounds we hear today, a platform for up-and-comers via his OTF label, and a testament to the fact that hard work pays off.
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