1. Lil Durk and Lil Baby move an impressive 150,000 units of their near-surprise album Voice of the Heroes in its first week. Is that 150k number mostly attributable to their combined star power at this point, or is there something else the album does particularly well to poise it for such a strong bow?
Carl Lamarre: Combined star-power propelled Heroes to top chair and leader on the Billboard 200. If you remember, Lil Baby himself was coming off a dominant 2020 campaign where he logged almost 200,000 first-week album-equivalent units with his sophomore project My Turn. Now, you couple his torrid success with Durk's growing mainstream appeal (Drake's "Laugh Now Cry Later" going No. 2 on the Hot 100 and netting a No. 2-peaking project on the Billboard 200 with last year's effort, The Voice), you have two bonafide all-stars pairing up for a splashy release.
Jason Lipshutz: The Voice of the Heroes plays to Lil Baby and Lil Durk’s strengths, giving them room to contemplate their upbringings and respective roles in the extended hip-hop universe while also providing plenty of beats and hooks for them to spin into streaming-playlist gold. That said, the joint project could have been a total dud and still would have likely cruised to No. 1, based on the profiles of the leading men: Baby is one of the biggest forces in modern rap, and there might not be on a more enviable winning streak through the past 12 months than Durk. Replay value may have increased that equivalent album units number a bit, but The Voice of the Heroes was always going to be a big deal.
Joe Lynch: The easy answer is 'combined star power,' and it's probably the most accurate. Last year, Lil Baby's My Turn earned 70,000 equivalent album units during its fifth week at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, so it's hard to imagine a new Baby project not pulling big numbers in its first frame. I do think part of its success stems from how listenable it is – with consistent tone and BPMs, it's more of a mood than a journey, so when it wraps after an hour, it's easy to dive back in.
Neena Rouhani:I think the project was highly anticipated, with a lot of buzz surrounding it. I’d say that’s due to the chemistry between Lil Durk and Lil Baby, and obviously their star power helps. We’ve seen the great music that comes out of their collaborative efforts, like “Finesse Out The Gang Way” earlier this year, so I think people just knew the album would be full of gems .
Andrew Unterberger: It's star power, combined with good chemistry, good timing -- Durk's popularity keeps cresting in 2021, and Baby was arguably the biggest rapper of 2020 -- and a very listenable set of songs. Delivering the set with just the right amount of advance notice -- less then two weeks after the set was officially announced, and less than a week after the title track dropped -- also certainly helped.
2. While Lil Baby had previously topped the Billboard 200 for multiple weeks last year with his star-making set My Turn, this is Durk's first time atop the 200. Is this a meaningful benchmark moment for his career, or just more positive momentum for one of 2021's most prolific rap stars?
Carl Lamarre: I think it's a meaningful benchmark considering Durk's arduous climb to the top. When Chicago emerged as the elite drill capital at the turn of the decade in 2010, Chief Keef earned nearly all the fame and acclaim that came with it. After reshuffling his deck and changing labels, Durk's prolific output and creative fervor reached a boiling point around 2019-20. He carved out a surefire hit with "Homebody" while etching his lane as rap's preeminent street leader. Next, he found a pocket and capitalized off his momentum, courtesy of "Laugh Now Cry Later." He then continued to soar as a features savant when he obliterated Pooh Shiesty's "Back on Blood" while punctuating his status as a legitimate rap star on remixes like Chris Brown and Young Thug's "Go Crazy" along with Coi Leray's " No More Parties." The No. 1 album just ties it all together.
Jason Lipshutz: Both! Lil Durk scores another win by co-starring on a project with Lil Baby, and a first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 is not a W to overlook. Given the hot streak that Durk has been on dating back to mid-2020, it’s not surprising that his team-up with Lil Baby was a commercial success -- but the fact that he’s sharing top billing with Baby, who dominated last year, on The Voice of the Heroes speaks to Durk’s current standing in the hip-hop landscape.
Joe Lynch: For someone who's enjoyed varying degrees of buzz for nearly a decade, Durk earning his first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 is a major achievement and a testament to his grind to the top – although it's awful that this arrives at the same time he's enduring a tragic loss in the family.
Neena Rouhani: I think the album’s success speaks to Durk’s significance, in addition to Baby’s starpower. If it had been a collaboration with a different artist, I can’t see it performing how it did. But time can only tell if the project will endure on the charts. That will be more indicative of whether it’s Baby’s momentum or a project with staying power for Durk.
Andrew Unterberger: It's a good item for Durk to be able to cross off the resumé, though like the best NBA players once they enter the league's inner circle, now the goal posts will be moved and he'll have to prove that he can top the charts without superstar help. That'll probably come soon enough too -- but in the meantime, this is also a huge W for Baby, who keeps his My Turn momentum going with a little-hyped project with only a slight dip in first-week numbers.
3. A staggering 16 tracks from the set grace the Hot 100 this week -- all but the set's last two cuts -- led by the Travis Scott-featuring "Hats Off" at No. 16 and the title track at No. 20. Do you see any of them serving as a potential breakout hit off the album?
Carl Lamarre: I like "Hats Off" a lot. However, a dark horse for me would probably be "Rich Off Pain" with Rod Wave. I'm glad that Rod is doing features now because we all know his capabilities on the streaming front as a solo threat. By adding a flourishing Wave alongside The Heroes duo, you have a grand slam of a record.
Jason Lipshutz: It’s easy to stare at the track list to The Voice of the Heroes and conclude, “The song with Travis Scott will be a hit!,” because, often, songs with Travis Scott are hits. But, yeah, “Hats Off” is the breakout here, a twitchy spitting showcase in which Lil Baby croak-raps around the overly dramatic beat, Lil Dark shrugs off the Grammys in his verse, and Scott sends it home while batting cleanup. It’s downright hypnotic, and will endure for the rest of 2021.
Joe Lynch: The presence of Travis Scott on a track automatically lends it a blockbuster air, so "Hats Off" – which is already in the lead – is probably the safest bet. But personally, I can see the melancholy, deeply personal "Still Hood," the whistle assisted "That's Facts" or the beautiful, brutal "Rich Off Pain" ft. Rod Wave breaking out.
Neena Rouhani: If anything, I’d say the Rod Wave track has a lot of hit potential. I like the intro track, but the sheer fact that it comes first contributes to the volume of listens. “Rich Off Pain” is a melodic rap masterpiece; it’s catchy, an easy listen and my personal favorite track from the project.
Andrew Unterberger: I'm not sure the set will necessarily have a breakout hit -- but if it does, I'd keep an eye on "Still Hood," which has a little of the lockstep energy and vitality of Baby's 42 Dugg collab "We Paid." Like that slow-burning hit, I could see this one growing to anthem status in the long run.
4. Collaborative hip-hop albums often end up taking a sort of unofficial, backseat designation within the respective catalogs of both artists. Do you see such a fate befalling Voice of the Heroes for Lil Baby and Lil Durk, or will it endure as an important album for either/both?
Carl Lamarre: Because his trajectory is so unreal now, I believe this album will be just a minor footnote in Lil Baby's discography when it's all said and done. After hearing him on Voices along with his 2021 features (Drake's "Wants and Needs," J. Cole's "Pride Is the Devil," and "Joyner Lucas's "Ramen and OJ"), you begin to realize how scary good this kid is. It makes you wonder about the steps he's possibly taking on his forthcoming album and where he plans on going within the next few years.
Jason Lipshutz: If The Voice of the Heroes ends up being considered inessential, the joint project still offers a snapshot of two artists at fascinating phases in their careers -- Lil Baby having recently climbed the mountain of commercial rap, and Lil Durk still scaling upward, hoping to become the same type of headliner. Baby offers unflagging confidence on the project, whereas you can hear the hunger in Durk’s delivery, as if he’s pushing himself to match the level of his teammate. Who knows how the coming years of their respective careers play out, but The Voice of the Heroes offers a compelling document of where Baby and Dark are at right at this moment.
Joe Lynch: Similar to my answer to the first question, I think what makes Voice of the Heroes so listenable will ultimately prevent it from having legs as the years go by – without peaks and valleys, it's hard to imagine this enduring as an essential release for either. I would imagine it being one of those second-tier albums in an artist's catalog where there's nothing exactly wrong with it, but you're not going to be raving about its virtues four, five years down the road.
Neena Rouhani: I haven’t quite put my finger on why collaborative albums are designated backseat projects, but there are a rare few in the last decade that have stood tall, like Watch The Throne and What A Time To Be Alive. I’m not sure that The Voice of the Heroes will be one of those.
Andrew Unterberger: It's a strong historical snapshot, a coherent listen, and sonically and lyrically detailed enough for plenty of listeners to find their own personal favorites from its tracklist. But I doubt it'll be one of the first albums anyone thinks of or turns to from either artist a decade from now.
5. If you could enlist a dream collab album between any two other Lil or Little artists, what would it be?
Carl Lamarre: Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Wayne. I can hear a lot of spacey, intergalactic vibes on that album. Maybe a 2021 version of "Phone Home" could shake things up?
Jason Lipshutz: Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Wayne -- two of the most eccentric, and technically gifted, rappers of all time -- on a joint project, titled something like We Are Definitely Not Human Beings? Sign me up ASAP.
Joe Lynch: A team-up between Lil Nas X and Little Mix would be the cherry on top of a post-pandemic Pride Month that the world deserves.
Neena Rouhani: It’s never going to happen, but the two best Lil’s to ever do it: Lil Wayne and Lil Kim.
Andrew Unterberger: Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Louis. Ever since the acid-soaked "Futsal Shuffle 2020," I've wondered what it would sound like if Uzi went full classic house.