The Fresh Prince of Chiraq

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Lil Durk is still working hard on his debut album, but in the meantime he sat down with VICE for an interview. Below is an excerpt from the article.

It’s late August, at some ungodly early-morning hour. We’re at Studio 11 in downtown Chicago, talking to a Def Jam A&R guy named Sickamore. He is calmly overseeing the tumultuous career of Lil Durk, a 20-year-old rapper who’s currently encased in one of the studio’s glass vocal booths, a Gucci scarf draped over his shoulders. If you look closely at the tattoo above his right eye, you’ll see it reads angelo, the name of his son. The engineer cranks the vocals up over dark drill beats crafted by producer Paris Bueller. Sickamore turns to us and says “We wanna frame him as 50 Cent meets Justin Bieber!”

Those who have yet to have their heads trepanned by South Side Chicago’s drill-music scene—made famous by Chief Keef, sponsored by Kanye West, with a sound streamlined and perfected by a barely 20-year-old producer named Young Chop—may not have heard Lil Durk or his music.

Though unapologetically violent and quite possibly gang-affiliated, Lil Durk is probably the poppiest of the serious-as-cancer drill rappers. The genre, which was once called “death music,” is the brutal soundtrack to Chicago’s catastrophic gang violence and astronomical murder rate. The city is home to more than 100,000 gang members belonging to 59 gangs, and in 2011 alone 319 of its school-age children were reported shot, purposefully or otherwise. It was apparent that things had completely spiraled out of control when some Chicagoans began referring to their hometown as “Chiraq.”

This is the environment where Lil Durk thrives, along with a cadre of loosely associated artists. Tonight the studio is crawling with rappers, producers, and crews affiliated with Lil Durk’s Only the Family (OTF) clique, along with miscellaneous members of the 300, a faction of the nationwide street gang Black Disciples, with which Durk and Keef reportedly affiliate. The most high-profile members of these crews are Lil Reese, Fredo Santana, and, of course, Chief Keef.

Chief Keef has made a career shouting threats over rolling, mechanistic, post-ATL trap beats which somehow became party anthems that rich white girls dance to in their dorm rooms every night. Lil Durk, on the other hand, painstakingly explains his sublegal lifestyle and the more disappointing aspects of life in one of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in the US, and how he’s not exactly happy with some of the ways his life has shaped up. While these crews make innovative and brutally truthful music that has far transcended the streets where it’s recorded, the Chicago cops are also following these rappers very closely and—unfairly or not—using them as a means of keeping tabs on street factions. Rap crews are a fast and loose way for Chicago cops to track the city’s complex, fragmented, and incomprehensible landscape of gangs.

This past June, Lil Durk beat a gun charge after the Chicago Police Department charged him with the unlawful use of a .40-caliber weapon by a felon after officers on the scene allegedly saw the rapper throwing a handgun into his car. Nine witnesses testified in support of Lil Durk, and the indictment was dropped just in time for him to record Signed to the Streets, which was released in early October.

A man who has had a tumultuous six months, Lil Durk doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon—barring the invasion of Chiraq by US Armed Forces.

Click here to read the full interview.