Lil Durk and Chicago drill are rightfully synonymous. Since breaking in 2012, Lil Durk has pioneered a genre of melodic street music that struck at the core of his city and told a real, unappropriated story of Chicago.
“It’s important to always put your city on your back no matter who come from there,” Durk tells me over the phone. “On your end, you just make sure you support your home. Who really support you and love you? That’s your hometown.”
At 26, Lil Durk has had a full and mostly fruitful career. This year alone he’s released an album, moved from Chicago to Atlanta, and changed labels from Def Jam to Alamo. All of these life developments were to the point of making him a better man and a freer artist. Most importantly, these changes were meant to put him in a position to feed his fans. “When everything died down, I lost connection with my fans,” Durk says. “I just feel like I owe them a lot of time and a lot of work, a lot of music.”
With the release of Signed to the Streets 3, the third installment in his now five-year-long series, Lil Durk is back home and back to making his fans happy. “This is my roots,” he says. “That’s where I come from. That’s what the fans know me as. Getting back to my roots and giving them what they want is a genius idea. No matter what project I promote, they always say, ‘We need Signed to the Streets 3,’ so, bet.” Bet, indeed.
DJBooth’s full interview with Lil Durk, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: Congrats on a year of massive changes: new label, new album, new city. Have you had time to just take everything in?
Lil Durk: Yeah, I appreciate it. I just like the energy of what’s going on, and the support behind me from the label and the fans. This feels different from any other project that I’ve ever dropped.
Break down these moves for me. Why Alamo from Def Jam? Why Atlanta from Chicago?
To better myself, in the moving situation from Chicago to Atlanta. It’s a better scene, better vibe. I could focus. And Def Jam, it just wasn’t fitting for me. It wasn’t working for me. No big story behind it; they just didn’t fit me. Alamo took me in, and we chopped it up and they let me do what I gotta do. They put the ball in my court.
How did you know Alamo really got your style?
Everything they do, it be real. They tell you they gon’ do something, they do it. They prove it.
How has drill evolved since you broke in 2012?
It’s still there. You got new, upcoming artists that are super on it, super focused on that sound. They keeping it up and going. And it’s still inside of me.
Do you feel a sense of responsibility when you write about your city, seeing as people love to misrepresent Chicago?
Yeah, it’s where I’m from. It’s important to always put your city on your back no matter who come from there. On your end, you just make sure you support your home. Who really support you and love you? That’s your hometown.
Now that you’re dropping Signed to the Streets 3, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a man and an artist since the first one?
Just keep going. Take your responsibility. Take your control. Follow your mind. Follow your team. Stick with your team. We stuck together, and this is the outcome.
Biggest setback you’ve overcome in the last five years?
When I first got signed, I was in jail. They was pushing “Dis Ain’t What U Want,” and they stopped it because I went to jail. That was the biggest setback. Nothing else, ever since then.
People churn through music so quickly, why do you think sticking to the STTS series has worked for you across five years?
Because this is my roots. That’s where I come from. That’s what the fans know me as. Getting back to my roots and giving them what they want is a genius idea. No matter what project I promote, they always say, “We need Signed to the Streets 3,” so, bet. It’s like, the energy that I got right now, I can make it happen.
Where do you find the stamina to keep dropping full-length projects?
I’m motivated. This is my job, and I’m passionate about it. I record every day. I already have [songs] in the holster. Passion makes it easy for me because I love this.
Do you ever burn out?
No, I could never [laughs]. It’s all about being a student to the game. It’s all about relationships and keeping going. If you keep going on your own, and you got that relationship as far as being a student to the game, listening to everybody and watching everybody’s interviews… This ain’t no competition. This’ll make you a better person.
What’s the most important story you tell on STTS3?
Definitely the neighborhood hero. The whole thing is about neighborhood heroes. I could tell my story without being dictated by… I can drop any song I want with any sound I want. The pain’s there; the struggle’s there. The fun’s there. You got radio songs on there. But the whole thing is STTS, as far as what I went through.
What makes someone a neighborhood hero?
Whatever you do, if it's buying somebody a meal, giving somebody a ride to a job interview… You never know how you could save somebody’s life or help somebody’s life. It could be the smallest things.
Do you feel like you really know who you are as an artist?
Definitely. This is my biggest moment right now. As far as right now, this is my biggest moment since 2013.
What’s your energy right now?
Real. Turnt up. Real passionate. Dedicated to what I do. Family man, know what I’m saying? I just keep all good vibes around me. I really want them to know me as music, and me first.
How does family influence your music?
Family is the reason I do everything, no matter what I do. That’s my number one motivation out of anything else.
Your situation has changed for the better in the last five years, so why is it important that you keep making these street anthems and keep reminding yourself and fans where you came from?
It’s important. Like I say, when everything died down, I lost connection with my fans. I just feel like I owe them a lot of time and a lot of work, a lot of music.
What did you have to do to reconnect?
Get back to my roots. Get back motivated. Get back my confidence, and get out that situation with Def Jam.
Do you feel like you have a new type of creative freedom on Alamo?
Yes. They told me to just do me. That shocked my mind. Okay, I can now give the fans what they want. They believe me. I can just drop what I feel at the moment. [Alamo] is real supportive.
Were you making records out of fear, or to fit in before?
It ain’t fear. I knew what I wanted, and I knew what direction I was heading in. I knew how to win.
Being so aware of yourself, what is your 2019 going to look like?
I got tours coming up. Collab projects with A Boogie. I got another single. It’s just grind time and the goal is to feature on every mixtape that drop that year, every album that drop.
Features help you stay relevant. People stay seeing your name on these projects, and you’re actually killing [your verses], that’ll help you.
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