Few artists withstood the peaks and valleys of the short-lived drill surge better than Lil Durk, who got a major label deal, landed two breakout hits, weathered a string of bad breaks and later an underwhelming debut album, all before he turned 23. He also lost his manager OTF Chino and his cousin OTF NuNu to gun violence during that stretch. His Def Jam debut, Remember My Name, was uneven and largely forgettable, but he didn’t stay down long, opting instead to refocus. Durk seemed to turn a corner months later on 300 Days 300 Nights, an action-packed mixtape led by the Dej Loaf duet “My Beyoncé” (which felt refreshingly out of character for the rapper, who once made a song called “Bang Bros.”) He found his footing within the tape’s 19 tracks, regaining his grasp on Auto-Tune and rediscovering his range. It serves as a lead-in to Lil Durk 2X, a continuously-delayed mixtape turned sophomore album that realizes Durk’s full potential as drill’s last major-label hope.<br/><br/>
Durk has ascribed several different meanings to the title 2X—in an interview with XXL, he said it represents his “second chance,” and it’s also a reference to his two sons (who are pictured on the album’s cover) and how they’ll follow his lead—but the concept might be best explained by the opening moments of the title track: “I’m doing me/I get it by myself, I get this money by myself/I swear I do it like there’s two of me.” The premise is simple: this Durk is twice as good. And 2x supports that thesis with a renewed commitment to hammering cadences lathered in a bittersweet candy varnish. In fact, this is the best Durk has ever been, as a writer, rapper, and performer, for the duration of any project. All three angles intersect on songs like “Glock Up” and “Check,” which allow Durk to operate freely inside hollowed-out beats.<br/><br/>
Sonically speaking, there is a great deal of variety on 2X, a project that still revolves primarily around gun violence—shootouts, revenge killings, and even gangland posturing (“Lil Booka will drop you”)—but isn’t beholden to its gloom. It can, at times, be just as dark as past projects, like on the bloodthirsty “True” (“Real killas, they don’t leave witness … Call my shooters, they got no limits”), but a more colorful tonal palette provides relief. Lighter tracks, like the Ty Dolla $ign-featuring love song “She Just Wanna” and the strutting “Money Walk” with its pixiphone-toned backbone, provide balance “My Beyoncé” gets slotted in as the closer, and its sweet tone, accented by chirping birds, is a welcome addition. Atlanta mainstays Wheezy, Cassius Jay, and Zaytoven, along with longtime Durk collaborator C-Sick bring a mix of distant, atmospheric mood inducers, MIDI keyboard-driven trap soul (adorned in the increasingly popular sample from Nelly’s “Dilemma”), and plush, full-bodied pop crossovers, but Young Chop and ChopSquad DJ step outside themselves to provide the brightest spots.<br/><br/>
By his own admission, this is the happiest Durk has ever been in his life, and you can hear it in fragments on 2X: “Spent eight on the section, said fuck Section 8/I bought my mom a new crib/No more rent being late,” on “Set It Off;” “Thank God for my mama/Thank the lord for my brothers/We gonna take on the world,” on “Super Powers;” “You and I, White dress, flowers, and a suit and tie/Me and you like Bonnie and Clyde,” on “My Beyoncé.” There’s positive energy sprinkled throughout, which helps to cut through the shadows cast by a lifelong exposure to death. When he raps “Made it out ‘cause I had to,” it’s a reminder of the tightrope he’s walking. Passing mentions of surviving the summer—the season where murder rates spike in inner cities—reveal that he’s still entrenched in the streets, tied to a community plagued by an endless cycle of murders. Those still fighting the battle are never far from his thoughts; he’s still fighting it, too. There are no reprieves from the harsh realities of the war zone that is Chicago’s South Side.<br/><br/>
But there’s one moment on 2X where Durk manages to completely untether from this reality, the world that took his cousin, his manager, and his friends and demands he respond with barbarism: The standout “Super Powers,” a Young Chop-produced opus that makes the strongest case for Durk’s growth as a musician and a young man. It’s an escapist anthem that champions inner strength and considers resilience superhuman. The reverb from his Auto-Tuned croons bleed into strobing Simon-esque synth notes, selling the euphoria. It’s introspective and optimistic. As Durk grapples with leaving his old life behind to create a better life for his sons, he creates his most gratifying and moving work yet. Lil Dirk 2X seeks rehabilitation but finds evolution.
|2||Lil Durk 2X|
|4||She Just Wanna|
|9||Set It Off|