Music

Lil Durk: They Forgot

They Forgot highlights Lil Durk’s gift for creating momentum.


Lil Durk

They Forgot

Label: Only the Family
US Release Date: 2016-11-26
UK Release Date: 2016-11-26
Amazon
iTunes

There is more to the way we process music than sound. There is also mythology, the images we affix to sounds: Brian Wilson leading session players in pursuit of a great pop symphony; Prince in the studio, alone, recording each instrumental and vocal part with perfect virtuosity.

One of the most powerful mythologies in American popular music is the image of the artist devising and executing an idea simultaneously -- creation through extended improvisation. That is the mythology of the jam band, the punk band, and, in recent history, the rap mixtape, which grew in stature and renown as artists like Lil Wayne, Clipse, 50 Cent, and Future made releases that sounded as if they were created in fits of divine inspiration. The best mixtapes made tedious work look easy.

On his most recent mixtape, They Forgot, Lil Durk plays into this mythology. Four years ago, he rose to regional fame with a group of young Chicago rappers -- including Chief Keef, King Louie, Fredo Santana, and Lil Reese -- who formed a subgenre, “drill", in which they concentrated the ideas and ideals promoted by gangster rap into a received value system. There is a reverent, almost evangelical bent to the way they talk about sex, violence, and drugs, and they create a tension between content and its presentation. The content is vivid, concerned with matters of life and death and the most fundamental ways to experience pleasure. The presentation is often aggressive but disaffected, shaped by the desire to present oneself as invulnerable.

The most effective drill rappers make music with a grave weight, urgency, and force, like Chief Keef, the subgenre’s most famous export. Keef, who was 17 when he released his debut album, Finally Rich, has a knack for expressing masculine ideals of toughness into concise and memorable forms. On his breakout single, “I Don’t Like,” Keef distils his enmity toward cowards and snitches into a simple declaration: “That’s that shit I don’t like.” Keef raps the first four syllables in a monotone staccato, dips and expands the fifth syllable, then snaps into the sixth, creating an exclamation without conveying excitement.

Durk doesn’t have this kind of vocal dexterity or, indeed, a distinctive approach to rhythm, melody, or diction. What he does have is a gift for creating momentum. In the past, Durk has not always used this gift. He is an awkward fit for the big, lumbering beats favored by drill rappers which are built for declaration, not speed.

You get the sense, through Durk’s liberal use of Auto-Tune on his breakout mixtape, 2012's Life Ain’t No Joke, and debut album, 2015's Remember My Name, that he has ambitions beyond the sonic tendencies favored by other drill rappers, but he has yet to find a collaborator who can find the right shape for these aspirations. There have been hints of an evolution on Remember Me and his most recent studio album, 2016’s Lil Durk 2X -- through collaborations with Jeremih, Dej Loaf, Ty Dolla $ign, Yo Gotti, Future, and Young Thug --- of Durk as a master of ceremonies, able to create room for a broad range of vocal styles. There are curatorial streaks on these releases that suggest Durk’s ultimate gift may be the ability to arrange the space around him.

Hints of this impulse appear on They Forgot, where the unifying strategy is speed, to move quickly and not look back. The beats use short, repeated melodic phrases to drive songs forward, and, as on 2X, Durk hosts a variety of guests, acting as a grayscale against which they can project color. Meek Mill’s tense and breathless phrasing comes into high relief on “Young Niggas", as does 21 Savage’s croaked diction on “Shooter2x". But if there is a breakout star on this mixtape, it is Hypno Carlito, a member of Durk’s label, Only the Family. On “Back 2 Back", Carlito raps in a strained, congested cadence that disrupts Durk’s quest for efficiency in favor of texture. It is a rare moment that privileges sound for its own sake.

One of the keys to executing Durk’s strategy is concision; the listener needs to be left feeling dazed and energized. Though the mixtape runs just 43 minutes, signs of fatigue appear on its final songs. The closer, “Street Life,” is a conceptual misstep and an indication that Durk’s curatorial instincts need refining. The song features BJ the Chicago Kid, a soul singer who contributes a hook about aching for redemption from vicious cycles of violence, and the gesture rings false because it has no precedent. But it is a sign that Durk continues to search for new avenues of expression, and that he has yet to find the collaborator who will take him there.

6
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.

Music

ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.

Film

Silent Women Filmmakers No Longer So Silent: Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers

The works of silent filmmakers Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers were at risk of being forever lost. Kino Lorber offers their works on Blu-Ray. Three cheers for film historians and film restoration.

Music

Rush's 'Permanent Waves' Endures with Faultless Commercial Complexity

Forty years later, Rush's ability to strike a nearly perfect balance between mainstream invitingness and exclusory complexity is even more evident and remarkable. The progressive rock classic, Permanent Waves, is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

Music

Drum Machines? Samples? Brendan Benson Gets Contemporary with 'Dear Life'

Powerpop overlord and part-time Raconteur, Brendan Benson, grafts hip-hop beats to guitar pop on his seventh solo album, Dear Life.

Music

'Sell You Everything' Brings to Light Buzzcocks '1991 Demo LP' That Passed Under-the-Radar

Cherry Red Records' new box-set issued in memory of Pete Shelley gathers together the entire post-reunion output of the legendary Buzzcocks. Across the next week, PopMatters explores the set album-by-album. First up is The 1991 Demo LP.

Music

10 Key Tracks From the British Synthpop Boom of 1980

It's 40 years since the first explosion of electronic songs revitalized the UK charts with futuristic subject matter, DIY aesthetics, and occasionally pompous lyrics. To celebrate, here's a chronological list of those Moog-infused tracks of 1980 that had the biggest impact.

Reading Pandemics

Poe, Pandemic, and Underlying Conditions

To read Edgar Allan Poe in the time of pandemic, we need to appreciate a very different aspect of his perspective—not that of a mimetic artist but of the political economist.

Books

'Yours, Jean' Is a Perfect Mixture of Tragedy, Repressed Desire, and Poor Impulse Control

Lee Martin's Yours, Jean is a perfectly balanced and heartbreaking mix of true crime narrative and literary fiction.

Music

The 60 Best Albums of 2007

From tech house to Radiohead and Americana to indie and everything in between, the 60 best albums of 2007 included many of the 2000s' best albums.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Solitude Stands in the Window: Thoreau's 'Walden'

Henry David Thoreau's Walden as a 19th century model for 21st century COVID-19 quarantine.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Will COVID-19 Kill Movie Theaters?

Streaming services and large TV screens have really hurt movie theaters and now the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered multiplexes and arthouses. The author of The Perils of Moviegoing in America, however, is optimistic.

Gary D. Rhodes, Ph.D
Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.