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Digital Cover Story, November 2016
Written by J RIVERA / DIRK DIGGLER
Photos by CHRISTIAN LANTRY

With a frantic life between Chicago and New York, Lil Durk has just turned 24 (he was born on October 19, 1992). Las night, he had an ‘ordinary’ birthday bash in the Big Apple: dinner at Broadway 49 Restaurant surrounded by friends and his Collective OTF (Only The Family). It has been just two months since his second album, LIL DURK 2X, was released on OTF/Def Jam Recordings. His schedule is jam packed, and we know that for a fact: this interview had to be postponed four times. Lil Durk is in the middle of a North American Tour that will take him to 27 cities, and will see an end next December 17 in Miami, FL. The MC tells us about his feelings at the beginning of the tour: “My first two shows on the tour (Warrensburg & Petersburg) were crazy. I’m bringing a different energy to this tour; I interact more with the fans, I’m more in tune with ‘em. I’m giving my all on stage and the audience is feelin’ it.” The stage and the studio are now the ‘home’ for Lil Durk, who had a very complicated childhood.

 

The streets of Englewood, a violent neighbourhood in Chicago’s South Side, were the school for a teenager who knew rap was the only way out to prosper and change his lifestyle. His family had limited resources and also, he didn’t have a father figure as a reference; Durk reminisces on that difficult stage in his life: “Growing up in the South Side of Chicago was kinda hard. My pops was locked up for life and I was too young so I couldn’t help my mother like I can now. She always struggled to make ends meet in a very hostile neighbourhood, in bad surroundings. We depended on food stamps, we had to borrow money, it wasn’t easy; my brothers and sisters did good in school but I was like the black sheep… I didn’t go to school that much and I spent the nights out tryin’ to hustle, tryin’ to get it to help my family out but I didn’t understand it like I do now.” Times have changed but the ghetto will always be the ghetto: “It is still bad out there. There are things happenin’ on every street corner, kids dealing drugs and doin’ all kinds of crazy shit. All that makes it look bad… and rightly so”, he openly confesses.

Family and loyalty are non-negotiable for Lil Durk. Two of his four children, Angelo (5) y Zayden (3), appear on the cover of his latest album. “I definitely don’t want them to go thru what I went thru. I work hard to make their life more comfortable, to keep them away from the streets. I want them to have a good education, want ‘em to know the world. I always wanna be there for them.” His mates in OTF are his only family now, because it’s not easy to trust people when you come from where he comes from. Durk has learned that lesson the hard way and knows exactly how to deal with friendships and professional relationships. “I try to surround myself with good people, business men and business women. I choose who I have around me, that’s really important; it’s not positive to have people around you that are up to no good”, he stresses.

“RADIO’S NOT FOR EVERYBODY BUT THE STREETS ARE NOT FOR EVERYBODY EITHER. YOU GOTTA FIND A BALANCE BETWEEN THE TWO: GET PLAYED ON THE RADIO BUT ALSO HAVE PRESENCE ON THE STREETS”

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A year and a half ago, Durk lost his manager, Chino Dolla. On March 27, 2015, OTF Chino was shot several times in his hometown, while he was sitting in his car; one of the bullets entered his skull and he passed away in the hospital a few hours later. He was 24 years old. Lil Durk released his first album, Remember my Name, in the summer of that year. The disc contained the anthem “Like Me” (featuring Jeremih) and bangin’ beats by Metro Boomin, London On Da Track and Young Chop. The streets of Chicago had finally found a new referent after Chief Keef ‘going AWOL’. “Everybody’s just tryin’ to find their place. We all tryin’ to grow. Chance is doin’ his thang and a lotta other people are on pause right now. It is what it is”, Durk says when we talk about the state of Chi-Town’s hip hop today.  

 

Durk seems to have found the right balance between what the streets want, with agressive and explicit tracks like “Glock Up” or “Hated On Me” (featuring Future), and what radio craves, with singles such as “Super Powers” or “My Beyoncé”, a duet with Dej Loaf. “Radio’s not for everybody but the streets are not for everybody either. You gotta find a balance between the two: get played on the radio but also have presence on the streets. There’s people that only shoot for radio and people that only shoot for the streets; to me, it’s important to be present on both ends”, he explains. “I put no limits on my fans. If it is good for me, I’m gonna do it. I want my fan base to keep growin’. Sometimes you do bangers for the streets and sometimes you do songs for the girls; you gotta have a certain kinda swag for that, to attract females, you gotta make posters and all that. A guy may not wanna walk around with a poster with my face on it but females will. That’s why I’m happy about My Beyoncé.”

“I’m blessed to put food on the table. Being with Def Jam is a blessing”

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Durk spent three months in jail in 2011, with charges for gun possession. He had plenty of time to think and realized music was his goal. But he had to change his ways in order to establish himself on the rap game. “When I was incarcerated, my life completely changed. I was always serious about rap but from that point on I saw it was a way of buying whatever I wanted, to support my family on a legal way”, he explains. It is plain to see that Durk loves ink, he has tattoos all over his body. His arm shows support to the Black Lives Matter movement, and he also has his fingers tattooed with his cousin and his friend Pluto’s names on them. Both of them were killed.

 

Latin trap has progressed quickly, and it is getting more accepted every day; therefore, many american rappers have turned their ears to it. Maybe ‘spanglish’ trap will be the norm in a near future. Yandel has already collaborated with Future in “Mi Combo” and Farruko will have Fetty Wap on his next project, TrapXFicante; why not imagine Lil Durk and Daddy Yankee in the same studio, since DY was the first reggaeton artist to work with american rappers? That idea does not sound bad at all to Lil Durk, who admires El Cangri. “I have just collaborated with one of ‘em, Hypno Carlito. That’s how you grow fans, that’s how you expand your music. It’s a way of growin’ as an artist, you gotta be open minded. There are very talented latin artists, like Daddy Yankee.”

 

Lil Wayne and Anderson Paak have revived the eternal discussion about ‘who’s better’, old school or new school. They have even said that emerging rappers such as Lil Yachty or Lil Uzi Vert are somehow uncultivated, and have doubted their talent on the mic. Durk is more in tune with the new generation of rappers, and he is absolutely clear on the matter. “You can’t judge nobody’s craft. Everybody’s doin’ their thing, I don’t care ‘bout your haircut or the way you wear your clothes. You are how you are. A lotta people just talk shit ‘cause they can’t be better than them, can’t become bigger than them, can’t have as many fans as them; that’s when the say shit like ‘they fuckin’ up rap’ and stuff… But every generation has its time and it’s our time now”, Durk asserts.

“WHEN I WAS INCARCERATED MY LIFE CHANGED. I WAS ALWAYS SERIOUS ABOUT RAP BUT FROM THAT POINT ON I SAW IT WAS A WAY OF BUYIN’ WHATEVER I WANTED, TO SUPPORT MY FAMILY ON A LEGAL WAY”

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For Durk there has never been a big difference between a mixtape (maybe mixtapes will have their own category on the next Grammys) and a studio album. At the end of the day it all comes down to a solid project, no matter the format. “Whatever it is you drop, it always has to be hot. I don’t care if it’s a mixtape, a single, an album… If it ain’t good, it ain’t worth it.” Those words come from somebody specialized in digital mixtapes. From when he started in 2011 up until now he has released six mixtapes, the last one of them, 300 Days, 300 Nights, at the end of last year. His fans are awaiting the third chapter of the infamous Signed To The Streets saga, with DJ Drama and Don Cannon. Durk tells us that he will collaborate with other artists in the next few months. “We gotta a lot of collabos comin’ up. That’s a way to keep your name goin’, to have people talkin’ ‘bout you.”

 

Almost nobody would have predicted Donald Trump winning the presidential elections and becoming the new tenant in the White House alongside his wife, ex-model Melania Trump. Even Durk was smooth about it weeks before Election Day. “I ain’t really worried about Donald Trump. It’s a very important day, we get to elect our president for the next four years. I think Hillary will definitely win”. We are afraid that, like thousands of americans taking the streets to show their discontent with the election results, Durk would have a less peaceful message when Barack Obama (the first african american president in the history of the USA) leaves office after eight years and an individual like Trump, with no political experience whatsoever, takes over.

 

The key to success for Lil Durk is being constant and have total dedication to your craft. “I’m always workin’. On the road, off the road, when I’m sleep, when I’m awake… I can’t stop doin’ it ‘cause there’s kids out there willing to work harder than you. And nobody’s gonna work for you, only you can do it.” Judging on his words during the interview, it looks like Durk has matured and now he’s more focused on what really matters: his family and his career. He has taken a step forward and left behind the mistakes he made in the past. Lil Durk now understands how this business works and what he has to do if he wants everybody talking exclusively about his artistry. He is a perfect example that hard work pays off in the long run.

‘LIL DURK 2X’ (Def Jam/Universal) is now available in stores and digital platforms. Pick up your copy at iTunes Amazon / Spotify / Tidal Deezer