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

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.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.