In 2012, Chicago's new drill rappers were one of hip-hop's most-talked about stories, and not always for their music. It was a tribute to how undeniable some of the music was that despite all of the things working against their success—run-ins with the law, media sensationalism, their young age—they managed to make such a mark in hip-hop. But as big as that impact was, it was inevitable that the momentum would falter in some ways.
Lil Durk seems to have come out on the other side with the best prospects. Where Keef seemed to actively spurn crossover, getting corrosively weirder, Durk had his biggest hit to date this year, with "Dis Ain't What You Want," a Paris Beuller-produced banger that sounded as much like Depeche Mode as it did contemporary street rap. His follow-up tape, Signed to the Streets, is a good step towards—hopefully—an eventual album release.
As autotune melodicism has seeped its way into rap, Durk has evaded easy comparisons to predecessors like Future or Roscoe Dash. Each track has a unique melodic sense; think the uneasy, nauseated edge of the Paris Beuller-produced "Don't Understand Me," which seems a world away from the comforting, molly-addled euphoric rush common to contemporary strip club rap. Beuller's scattered snares amplify the discomfort, giving the song a tense, nervous energy. Even the Young Chop-produced "Bang Bros," with its ethereal, soft-focus feel, sounds more like the streets going quiet storm, rather than bubblegum.
Although both Beuller and Chop both provide strong supporting roles, it's Zaytoven—fresh off one of the biggest hits of his career in "Versace"—who steals the show. Durk's hypnotic storytelling on "Who Is This" has the feel of a paranoid pulp noir, as he operates under continual surveillance. —David Drake