Lil Durk Talks Rediscovering Himself on the Road to 'Signed to the Streets 3': 'I Had to Get Back to the Roots'

Lil Durk
Danny Schwartz

Lil Durk

It's been a year of endurance for Lil Durk. The Chicago native has rode a roller coaster of emotions throughout the course of 2018. After being put on the back burner by Def Jam, his five-year relationship soured with the decorated label, and his career looked to be at a crossroads. 

Durk announced his departure from Def Jam in March. Soon after, to celebrate his newfound independence, Durkio fed his fanbase with the 12-track Just Cause Y'all Waited mixtape. The 26-year-old quickly found a home a few months later, inking a fresh deal with Alamo Records under the Interscope umbrella in late July, launching into the next phase of his career. "I went somewhere that made me feel like I was a top priority; a place that needed me just as much as I needed them," he previously told Billboard

The resilient drill artist then returned to Atlanta and shifted his focus to putting the finishing touches on his highly anticipated Signed to the Streets 3, which is being billed as Durk's third studio album. "At first, it felt like I did lose that connection because I was lost and trying to do anything to turn myself up," he says of becoming disconnected from the streets, prior to renewing his vows. "I'm not going to lie, I feel like a new artist."      

The blessings continued to pour in for Lil Durk, who welcomed his sixth child (and first with girlfriend India Royale) into the world when Willow Banks was born on Halloween. Days later, the Only The Family frontman put his stamp on the fourth quarter by delivering the gritty 20-track Signed to the Streets 3 last Friday (Nov. 9), a series that dates back to 2013. The wide-ranging effort adds to Durk's consistent catalog and is loaded with star-studded assists, calling on features from Future, Gunna, Kevin Gates, Ty Dolla $ign, A Boogie, Kodak Black, Lil Baby, Lil Skies, Young Dolph, plus some.    

Check out the rest of our conversation with Lil Durk, where we touch on crafting STTS3, the kiss heard 'round the world from Bernice Burgos, keeping his female audience a priority, working with Meek Mill, and much more. 

Billboard: You came up here to play us the album at the end of the summer, what did you change or add to it?

Lil Durk: I added a couple more songs. It was just different energies I was feeling compared to any other album I made. "Benihana" with Kodak Black and "Play With Us" with Kevin Gates are newer. We added a few and it's perfect now. 

Why did you decide to go with 20 tracks? Some would say that's too long in the streaming era of music. 

No, because I felt like I owed the fans that. Being in a [label] jam so long and not being able to give them the music I've wanted to, played a role. I feel like I have this new and improved energy and it would've just been like, "We waited all this time for 12 tracks?" We ain't gonna do that.

What's been different about creating Signed to the Streets 3 under Alamo Records compared to other projects where you were either independent or signed to Def Jam?

I'm not going to lie, I feel like a new artist. Everything has been different. The shows are going up and I'm doing streams I've never done before. Moving to Atlanta really did it. Being locked in the studio with artists who were turning up at the time, that gave me motivation. I took that energy and did what I did with it.

How do you remained connected to the streets as you grow further away from that lifestyle?

You could be on the moon and you could feed someone and give back to the streets. You don't necessarily having to be standing out there. There's different ways you can do it. I still feel connected. At first, it felt like I did lose that connection because I was lost and trying to do anything to turn myself up. I had to get back to the roots. I'm telling it all on the album.

Before we get into the album, I have to ask how "Off White VLONE" came together on Drip Harder? I saw you tweet about how you'd be tight if you weren't on their joint project the night before it came out.

Yeah, because altogether, I know we got like 15 songs. I'm like, "They better slide one of those motherfuckers on there." I didn't know until the track list came out. You know how that goes. I didn't know Nav was going to be on there either.

I saw you locked in the studio with Meek Mill this week, can we expect you to land something on his upcoming album releasing later this month? He showed you love on his Instagram as well.

We were actually in the studio together in New York. We were listening to Meek's album. It's hard. I'm supposed to [be on there]. We got a song called "Bougie" that has a snippet out there going crazy. It's good to see talent doesn't go unnoticed, no matter how long you've been doing this. 


Only the family involved

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Is Bloodas 2 with Tee Grizzley on the way?

Yeah, coming soon. It's a Midwest thing. 

Let's break down some records. How did "Neighborhood Hero" come together and what message did you want to convey with that?

It was important to me. I came up with it in the studio when we were bringing up a bunch of jail stories, like who never sent anyone money. It's about neighborhood heroes and who saved you. It doesn't necessarily have to be what you did for someone to brag it, more of who inspired you to do better. That's my favorite song on here. It's really been growing on its own and been an organic process.

We did a backpack giveaway in Chicago for the kids going back to school. The kids all had on "Neighborhood Hero" shirts. We started the Neighborhood Hero Foundation. I really like being active with it. Some people do it for the image, but I'm really in this. You get there and see them kids and be like, "Damn, I'm really saving a lot of pressure from their parents."

On "Treacherous" you say you don't consider yourself to be a role model. How does that differentiate from being a neighborhood hero?

I go off of my past and the people that looked up to me saw I didn't make the right decisions. I'm not perfect. If I came here with a teenager and I'm teaching them how to read, you're going to be like, "Damn." But if I'm teaching him how to roll a blunt, how are you going to look at me? It's really like the same thing. You're going to be looking at me crazy.

It's really how you carry it. A neighborhood hero could be anyone. For a role model, it could go down hill at any time. There's one person in Chicago that everyone used to look up to and then something happened. That's a prime example.

Later in the song, you touch on the media whirlwind that was created when you posed alongside model Bernice Burgos, kissing her on the cheek. 

It was really nothing. If I was being sneaky, I wouldn't pose for the picture. It was just a cool kiss on the cheek and it got blown out of proportion and I was like, "What the fuck?" She cool people, there's no problems. That's just the Internet. 

Would you say you have an addictive personality or problems keeping things in moderation? You pretty much ran through all of the vices in life on "Habit."

I didn't go through everything, so I'm just speaking for the people around me and everyone who can relate in general. Most of it was me, for sure, though. 

Even bringing strippers to the crib? How'd you pull that off?

For sure, just a little bit of face card [money]. I'm a little different though, I'm not coming through the door with no money. We just be having fun, man. These records are different. 

Moving on, how did you link up with Kevin Gates for "Play With Us"?

I put it together and this was around when he dropped [Luca Brasi 3] and I shouted it out on my Instagram story. He was like, "Respect. Send me something." I sent him that because this was the only thing I had with room for an open verse on my hard drive. He sent that bitch back so fast. He FaceTimes me, "Put that on your album!" Before he went to jail, we had a super tight relationship. Him and Fredo Santana were really close. 

On "Preach" you rap about "hating all cops with a passion." Is that something that's been instilled in you from a young age?

It was just the locking-ups, putting drugs on you -- I've witnessed everything. There's a lot of good cops too, but I just don't like them. They used to go by the code to serve and protect, but now they're killing motherfuckers. 

Is that you singing on "India, Pt. II"?

Yeah, you got to try different shit. The female [audience] is so important. I don't care how gangster you are, they're the ones that's still going to buy posters. You buy a male a poster, he'll probably throw it out as soon as you turn your back. Any female record that I make that's lovey-dovey is about [India] anyway. 


Baby gone have big eyes and big lips I see it now lol @indiaroyale --------

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Now that you've seen both side of it, what advice would you have for younger artists when deciding to sign to a major label?

I'd just rather sign when I'm a priority. Add fuel to the fire already going.