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Lil Durk: Consistency Becomes Longevity on ‘7220’

If brutal honesty is an art, the Eastside Chicago rapper is putting on a masterclass. Look no further than his first solo No. 1 album, 7220, a milestone of sweat equity and commitment to musical precision.

On March 18, the news was official: Lil Durk would officially debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with 7220. The project had moved 120,500 equivalent album units in its first week of sales, becoming the Chicago rapper’s first No. 1 album as a solo artist.

Durk previously topped the charts for a single week last summer with his collaborative project with Atlanta’s Lil Baby,The Voice of the Heroes. But until now, Lil Durk had never ruled the top of charts on his own.

As of this writing, 15 tracks from 7220 sit on Apple Music’s Top 100 USA. And that’s not all — he additionally owns eight spots on the chart’s top 10, with an ode to the late, great Virgil Abloh (“What Happened to Virgil”) featuring Gunna at No. 1 and the NBA YoungBoy diss track “AHHH HA” at No. 2.

7220 is Lil Durk’s fifth top-10 album — all have reached the top five at some point, at least briefly — and accounts for the third-largest week for an album in the 2022 tracking year, behind only Gunna’s DS4Ever and The Weeknd’s Dawn FM.

It’s all of a piece. Lil Durk is finally getting the recognition and respect he has always deserved through sheer musical force.

“I wasn’t following n—as’ ways, I was signed to the streets,” Durk raps on “Shootout @ My Crib,” the fourth track on the Alamo Records project.

Indeed, it’s true. Lil Durk never had a blueprint to follow. And in 2022, he’s showing us all that he’s created his very own.

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The Beginning

Durk, Chief Keef, the late Fredo Santana, and King Louie originated Chicago’s Mount Rushmore of drill music. Lil Reese, Young Chop, Katie Got Bandz, DJ L, G Herbo (then known as Lil Herb), Lil Bibby, and a few others followed closely in their footsteps.

But for Durk, it was more about refining the proverbial facial features on his Drill Rushmore visage to best reflect his authentic self. His uniquely crafted combination of melodic pacing and flagrantly honest lyricism, as well as a penchant for piano loops, pop songs, and Auto-Tune, ultimately solidified him as one of the most consistent and impactful rappers in a movement that still serves as the reference point for the genre a decade later.

What was happening in Chicago was both incredibly special and tragically treacherous. But it would lead to the music industry’s second awakening in the place that previously birthed regional legends such as Bump J, Vic Mensa, and The Cool Kids, which is not to mention Chicago-born icons like Common, Lupe Fiasco, Chance the Rapper, and Kanye “Ye” West.

Lil Durk performing at New York Fashion Week, 2019 (Thomas Concordia/Getty Images for PrettyLittleThing )

The rapper born Durk Banks found his music collaborators early on, primarily through the friends he’d grown up around — in and out of the streets. Among them were producer and videographer Dthangz, who shot and produced a lot of the early music, his affiliation with Chief Keef, or even his relationship with someone like French Montana

In March 2012, Keef’s “I Don’t Like” was a major drill moment, opening up the floodgates for a city that had already been captivated on the local level by the bubbling scene. Kanye West remixed the track for his label’s Cruel Summer compilation in September featuring Pusha T, Jadakiss, Big Sean (and Ye himself), propelling the movement further into mainstream than anyone could have previously imagined.

Then, it was Durk’s turn.

On the heels of all that momentum and the success of his first couple singles in shared via MySpace and YouTube, Durk released his second mixtape, Life Ain’t No Joke, to critical acclaim in October 2012 — one month after Cruel Summer.

This mixtape was downloaded 216,000 times on the online distribution platform DatPiff.

Another step forward in Durk’s mixtape lineage would come one year later: 2013’s Signed to the Streets, hosted by DJ Drama, noted for both its iconic tattoo and red graffiti ink-flooded cover art and its tighter, savvier musicality.

The Breakthrough

The music industry came running, and Durk’s 2013 cut “Dis Ain’t What U Want” stopped an ever-growing audience in its tracks.

Elsewhere in the drill universe, Chief Keef’s effortless bravado, online popularity, and impeccable cadences earned him nothing less than his own imprint label, GBE/300 (Glory Boyz Entertainment, later becoming GloGang), and a distribution deal with Interscope Records. Durk, however, couldn’t find that same footing right away. Though his ability to craft a hook was unmatched (see: “Sneak Dissin’“), he was a raw talent who was still experimenting with his slow-burn delivery and the most seamless possible use of Auto-Tune.

He had already established his own label and collective in OTF (Only The Family), but Durk’s associations with Keef and Santana’s GBE, and then Montana’s Coke Boys, never parlayed into major deals. (There’s speculation whether he was ever really signed to Montana.) This forced Durk to lean into his own path. And it may have been the best thing that could have happened to his career.

Influenced by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Meek Mill, Durk honed his singing rap style and emotional bars tapping into the frequency of his city’s poverty-stricken, crime-riddled South Side. 

He opted to ink a deal with Def Jam in 2014, but eventually left the label to go the independent route with Only The Family for a time, featuring several artists along the way including the late OTF Nunu and the late King Von.

It was around this time that the regional offshoots of Chicago’s drill movement began taking shape. Specifically, the sound directly infiltrated the UK, New York City, Toronto. Indirectly, it would be felt in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Detroit.

From 2014 to ’18, drill spread its wings as the music landscape shifted heavily. The blog era faded, and in its place came a return to a darker, underground soundscape. Young Thug and Future emerged in the mainstream, and SoundCloud rappers like Lil Uzi Vert and Playboi Carti began to gain traction.

All the while, Durk kept his head down and worked.

He earned a 2014 XXL Freshman look.

He crafted two  RIAA-certified gold singles: “Like Me” featuring Jeremih and “My Beyoncé” featuring former lover Dej Loaf.

He released his well-received debut and sophomore studio albums, 2015’s Remember My Name and 2016’s Lil Durk 2X, with memorable mixtape 300 Days, 300 Nights sandwiched in between. 

Durk sternly stuck to his formula for matter-of-fact storytelling and street ballads, which shines through on his 2017 collaborative EPs with Chicago’s own Lil Reese and Detroit’s Tee Grizzley. This overlapped with a period of crooning over piano ballads on mixtapes Love Songs for the Streets, Signed to the Streets 2.5 and Signed to the Streets 3

He signed with Interscope’s Alamo imprint in July 2018, he continued his efforts to remain consistent and true and refrain from playing anyone else’s game. But he’d do so with a chance to reach a far, far larger audience. What came next was two more mixtapes, four compilation projects with Only The Family, and three full-length albums (Love Songs 4 the Streets 2, Just Cause Y’all Waited 2 , The Voice).

Over the last three years, his music’s appeal to women and its consistent contentious bars have helped to create new energy around Durk’s career. He’s appeared everywhere, from placements on songs with the likes of Gunna, Young Thug, Pooh Shiesty, 21 Savage, Nardo Wick, YFN Lucci, Coi Leray, Megan Thee Stallion, Chris Brown, Roddy Ricch, and Rod Wave to his impressive chemistry with Future, Lil Baby and even Chicago’s own Polo G. 

Lil Durk finally earned a chance to get a taste of the Drake effect, too.

The Canadian rapper tagged Durk in on the viral August 2020 single “Laugh Now, Cry Later,” which was meant at the time to be part ofDrizzy’s then-upcoming Certified Lover Boy album. The song was accompanied by a luxurious Dave Meyers-directed flex —one filmed at Nike’s famed Oregon headquarters.

The video boasted cameos from athletes like Kevin Durant, Marshawn Lynch, and Odell Beckham Jr. Even Druski got in on the action. But the guest appearance that ultimately stole the show was Durk’s, who slid in on the second verse and seemingly took a shot at rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine.

Once the “Laugh Now”-less CLB dropped last September, Durk was nevertheless present on the track list with “In The Bible,” a song that also features Giveon. The cut showcases the rapper’s improved technical skills, as well as a glimpse at his entrepreneurial side — he took time out of his verse to promote his fiancée India Royale’s cosmetic business.

That wasn’t the first time Durk used his platform to promote his other ventures, however. In interviews with DJ Vlad, he’s spoken candidly about his real estate business and his foray into the trucking industry. Durk additionally launched OTF Gaming during the pandemic last April.

Earlier this month, one week before 7220 dropped, Durk announced the album was going to be accompanied by a 7220 NXTG3NZ NFT digital sneaker:

NXTG3NZ was co-founded by Lil Durk, Satoshi Designs, and Nexus, and operates in the worlds of custom outfits and gaming skins.

“The power has shifted to the artists and their fans with blockchain tech,” Lil Durk said in a press release for the digital sneakers. “I want to not only be a successful rapper [and] entrepreneur but a powerhouse voice in the metaverse and NFT community, at the forefront of this movement.”

He’s well on his way. And together, all of Durk’s business moves put him in the position to deny in full voice that he was “only” worth $3 million.

Durk Goes Deeper

With 7220, it’s clear the 29-year-old has caught his second wind.

Or is it his third?

On the album, the rapper who earned more Billboard Hot 100 entries of any artist in 2021 following 10 years of sweat equity in the game shows zero signs of slowing down. Durk’s seventh studio album grapples with his rough upbringing and the mounting losses gained along his long and winding path to success with an complex-but-unvarnished approach that’s been well-received by the critical consensus.

The title — the street address of Durk’s grandmother’s home — is memorialized and etched into the listener’s mind. Durk’s vulnerability in his storytelling never gets old; the special thing about Durk is that you never really finish peeling back his layers. When you think you’ve gotten to the core of who he is, he evolves yet again.

Just don’t expect him to betray the brutal honesty that got him this far.

On “Federal Nightmares,” he’s jarringly taken back to nights behind bars where he contemplated whether anyone really loved him, or if this life was even worth living at all.

“Love Dior Banks” begins with a touching tribute to Durk’s late brother, DThang, from his daughter after he passed away last year due to gun violence.

You might call7220 Durk’s proof of concept. Riddled with Auto-Tune and neck-deep with confessions and introspection, the album makes his menacing life experience palatable for an audience that feels like they can relate in their own traumas and growing pains. Canvassing his music nonstop across social media in a post-Soulja Boy landscape, Durk’s consistent mixtape fervor — reminiscent of Gucci and Wayne — created opportunities for the magic that manifested on this album.

The formula of Durk’s gleeful poise, unwavering confidence, and relentless spirit is working. And it will seemingly only continue to catch on stronger. Interestingly enough, when writer and editor David Drake did a deep-dive analysis on Chief Keef’s immense influence on modern hip-hop in 2018, he queued up a comparative chart compiling Google search volume from 2004-18 that included queries for Kodak Black, Gucci Mane, Keef, Lil Uzi Vert, and Migos:

Let’s take things further by updating the data to reflect 2011-present —and swapping in Lil Baby and Durk alongside Keef, Uzi and Migos:

Lil Baby’s meteoric rise is on full display— but more clearly in focus over the past few years is Lil Durk’s steady rise as the face of a grassroots movement that continues to build today. Durk is currently at the peak amongst his contemporaries in terms of search queries, proving he very well may be, as Pitchfork‘s Alphonse Pierre put it, a “voice to the voiceless.”

His career isn’t one of peaks and valleys. It’s a much steadier grind.

And it’s starting to pay off in ways he never could have imagined back in his OTF days — days that really weren’t all that long ago.

On December 19, 2021, Lil Durk got to perform at Chicago’s United Center.

He proposed to India in front of a sold-out crowd of 23,500 people all cheering on the hometown hero who made good.

Maybe the wins will feel like they outweigh the losses for Mr. and Mrs. Banks in the end. They’re certainly well on their way.Lil Durk’s enduring place on his musical movement’s Mount Rushmore has never been more rock-solid.

In any event, the Chicago kid has come a long, long way from grandma’s house.

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