Lil Durk has all the wit, dynamism, talent, and ambition he could ever need to launch himself from industrious obscurity to regional prominence, to a Def Jam record deal, to radio-powered street rap stardom—to a better life. With Young Chop at his back and a major label in his corner, Lil Durk is equipped to eclipse his Chiraq origin story. So why hasn't he?
How is it that Lil Durk is still in the trenches?
As of 2015, drill is still a thriving and prolific rap movement in Chicago. The drill scene thrives on regional hits; Keef has "Faneto" (8 million views) most recently, and Louie had "Live & Die in Chicago" and "B.O.N." (3 million views, each) last summer. Since Durk's debut is dropping on Def Jam, however, Remember My Name is the highest-profile drill release since Keef's undersold Interscope debut in 2012. Unfortunately, Durk's debut is similarly immaterial and fleeting. Remember My Name is a personal milestone for Durk, to be sure, but it's not a high watermark for the drill movement, or even within his own catalog.
Remember My Name does bundle a few bold moments of promise, however. For the album’s intro, Durk opts for loud and perverse hometown outrage on "500 Homicides, and he doubles down on guntalk and barking as his forte on "Amber Alert." Album single "Like Me," featuring Jeremih, is a predictable pivot, with Durk and Jeremih recapturing the R&B crossover magic of Durk's own "What You Do to Me" from last year. Here Durk raps, "Fell in love with some R&B bitches/And I know that it's good for the fame and the image," and then quickly corrects, "I ain't really been in love in a minute." With odd success, "Tryna Tryna" matches Durk's blown-out, banshee refrain ("I'm just tryna-tryna-tryna-turn up!") to a spitfire blur from Def Jam labelmate Logic, who sounds rather like Twista in this instance. Remember My Name's mightiest cut of all is "Higher," a bombed-out ballroom that Durk fills with champagne flutes and fresh corpses, memorialized by a ghastly grand piano; and so Durk announces the sum of his album's contradictions: "I'll shoot, but I don't condone it!"
Unfortunately, each of these (six) excellent songs is divided by fluff. As songwriting, "Don't Judge Me" is poignant autobiography and POV—Durk is still holding out hope that Barack Obama, the first black president, "will change shit"—but as a song construction, it's flattened by an incapable singer singing the blandest possible hook. Durk's own delivery is occasionally so rote that he de-emphasizes the astute and sardonic qualities of his lyrics, like on "What Your Life Like," when he drones, "I ride with too much Auto-Tune, I heard that shit before/This my life, I run my life; your life? I seen that shit before," as if he were Gucci or Future when, in fact, his ideal template is the complex yet powerfully plainspoken Boosie. "Resume" further suggests that Durk's problem isn't Auto-Tune so much as it's his penchant for splashing, rapsung vocals that sometimes obscure him.
On the other hand, "Lord Don't Make Me Do It" is a perfectly lively and articulate record, I suppose, about the brief temptation "to kill a bitch" (alternatively, "kill that hoe") who's tested his patience. If I were listening to, say, Z-Ro, I wouldn't even blink upon hearing this premise. When Durk indulges such savagery, however, it's typically for the sake of some subtle revelation or self-indictment, which he indeed delivers: "That's why I'm single like I am/And I'll never be a mister." His ostensibly matured, recently "civilized" theories of violence are complicated, and his music is generally filled with brief paradoxes, self-aware hypocrisy, and moral algebra that's yet to be solved for x. Such dissonance is the point, so overwhelmed by monotonous flows and, to a lesser extent, redundant production.
Lil Durk is still a prince. He will continue to thrive at home and at rap's margins (same difference). When the drill scene hit its controversial stride in 2012, Interscope signee Chief Keef confronted a similar commercial blockade but for dissimilar reasons: Keef's Finally Rich was prime product released with perfect timing but, alas, the wrong fanbase to legitimately "sell" a hundred thousand copies of anything. Durk, on the other hand, has struck out on product, timing, and profitability all the same. Remember My Name shortchanges Durk's mythology as well as his inner life, both of which he illustrated to superior effect on I'm Still a Hitta and Durk's two Signed to the Streets mixtapes. There's nothing new or challenging here. It bangs, though predictably.
Justin Charity is a staff writer for Complex. Follow him @brothernumpsa.