Lil Durk is ready for the next phase of his rap career, as the rose that blossomed from the concrete of Chi-Town’s drill music scene knows it’s “now or never.” Last week (March 29), The 25-year-old exclusively informed Billboard of his departure from Def Jam Records amid creative differences, after five years of a souring relationship. Even though he dropped four projects in 2017, two collaborative efforts included, Durk wanted to show fans the new and improved version of himself as an independent artist with the release of Just ‘Cause Y’all Waited (March 30).
With that weight off of his shoulders, Durkio made his way to the Billboard office for a productive conversation, one that went much differently than his first appearance at the office back in 2015. While on his Remember My Name press run, he recalls falling asleep and dozing in and out of consciousness in front of a confused audience.
Draped in gray jeans, a matching zip-up jacket, and Balenciaga sneakers, the Atlanta-based MC carried boxes of Thin Mints he purchased from a local NYC Girl Scouts troop into the interview, which made for an amusing optic and appetizing snack that a charitable Durk was willing to share with everyone involved.
Check out our conversation with the OTF rapper, as the Chicago native’s latest 12-track mixtape offering saw features from PARTYNEXTDOOR, Ty Dolla $ign and Lil Baby. We touch on crafting Just ‘Cause Y’all Waited, what went wrong with Def Jam, beating Bow Wow one-on-one for $10,000, his love of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and much more.
Why do a surprise release for Just Cause Y’all Waited?
It was too show y’all the new and improved me. I just got off Def Jam and this is the first project just to get to my fans because I’ve been stuck. We had to go through so many situations with asking the label and delays and now I can drop when I want being independent.
First independent tape since off def jam now I’m free and finna burn 2018 down — pic.twitter.com/umUxDvbda9
— DURKIOOO– (@lildurk) April 8, 2018
Why flood the marketplace with content by dropping four projects in total?
There was a hold up with Def Jam and all I knew that could save me was being consistent with music. If I went any other type of way it would have been a worse situation. It was just all bad. They wanted parts of everything and I had to ask for everything like, “Can I put this out as a single?” or “We should push this out.” They would say “Nah, I don’t think so.” And that’s where politics would step in. I never really got a chance to enjoy anything because I’ve been with them for five years.
We had material to prove to the labels that this would work too. They ran with one record, “My Beyonce.” That’s what we brought to them. We got a gold plaque for it, too. We just dropped “Make It Out” and told them that was the one and they couldn’t do it. It was very confusing and uncomfortable. I was unhappy.
Are you looking to sign with anyone or stay independent for now?
We’re down to talk, but for now, we’re doing Only The Family Entertainment and just focusing on me. Giving the material that I want to give and build a buzz to the highest that I didn’t get a chance to with Def Jam.
How did the project intro “Public Housing” come together?
I was explaining to [my managers] that this record should go. I felt good about it. I let my team pick what order the records go. I don’t pick my own records. I’m a fan of my music regardless so you have to think outside of the box. I worked with Fuse who is part of the 808 Mafia. We just locked in the studio at the time in Atlanta. We got 18 records that we did on the same night. If you got a vibe with a producer I think you should go full-fledged instead of being satisfied with two songs.
When did you connect with Lil Baby to craft “How I Know” with the visual as well?
That’s why I like working with artists in Atlanta. They’re easier to work with. It was basically like the same day for the video. We set it up the next day after the track. All it took was a phone call. The faster you work the better and this is our job. Atlanta is just different. It’s the music city.
Shout out to Lil Baby. Yeah, we look at each other like brothers. We don’t go in the studio and do just one song. We’ll do six or seven songs one night. Then the next day we’ll slide to the studio and do seven more. That’s how you stack up on your music. I got about 900 songs. 700 strong with different artists and 200 that I can get people on.
What do you remember about your grandma’s crib growing up? You reference seeing your first dead body on “Granny Crib.”
Everything — the roaches, rats, no food and no heat. That’s where it all started at. I had an Uncle Dale and he died on my grandma’s bed.
Why did you flip Logic’s “1-800” record into your own for “1 (773) Vulture?”
I was a super fan of the song, but I just didn’t know who made it. At first, you know, you hear it and be like I’ve heard this before. It was one of my favorite songs. I did half of the song and I hit the studio the next day to complete it. I put it on Instagram and the response was crazy so I thought just to drop it. It got a big response.
With “Cross Roads” you touch on a lot. Were you a huge fan of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony growing up?
Yeah, that’s where I got my style from. I used to think about how they would sing and rap. When I started doing it I remember Lil Reese and them would be like, “Man, you’re singing and shit man?” I was like, “Shit, this is my style.” This when I didn’t know how to put the quality in my music so the ad libs would be loud and the tunes would be strong as hell too. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony came through the gate with it, my influence came from them.
I used to watch their videos as a child and be like, “I’m not trying to go where the fuck they’re at.” I saw the “Cross Roads” video and Uncle Charles died in the yard, it was different.
On that same record, you say, “If I didn’t have beef they’d treat me like [Chance the Rapper].” Can you explain that?
Just how we came up. We came up with the violence within the area of Chicago that was super bad and we were a part of. That’s when it came to stopping shows, they didn’t want us on the radio. It was hard for us to maneuver. I got the talent and every time you’d scream Chicago they’d say “Durk, Durk.” But then the politics would be holding us back. That’s why I said it. His daddy in politics and my daddy in the feds.
What do you think about the evolution of the Chicago hip-hop scene since drill music?
I love it. The new artists are coming up and even the ones that been out are making a lot of noise. The light is going back onto Chicago. I think we got the artists that can be at the top of the game. It’s now or never. You can’t be satisfied with it you have to keep going. I got no problems with any Chicago rappers. We’re all cool now.
At first, everyone had egos, “How am I going to do a song with Chance The Rapper? It doesn’t make sense.” As we grow we can make it happen. It all depends on your work ethic and your craft. How are we going to meet in the middle so it makes sense for your fans and mine?
What do you think Fredo Santana’s legacy is looking back on his life?
When he died, he had a lot of love in Chicago from all sides.
On “Cross Roads” you reference how tweeting about his death was more of a look for some people.
Yeah, it becomes a lot about clout for people. There’s a lot of clout shit going on. It’s still respect, but it’s like people would tweet before they check on his mom or his baby. People that really know him would do that. Everything just needs to be real and authentic. What’s a tweet doing? Make sure his baby straight and his OG’s cool.
Why shout out Tupac at the end of the track?
I’m a fan of Tupac just like Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Tupac spoke his mind and his politic skills were amazing. Some people don’t want to say things because it could make them look bad. He didn’t give a fuck and that’s what made it cool. Just be yourself. Everyone isn’t going to be a killer or get money and be successful in life.
What do you think about the idea of an entire singing album from you?
My singing going to be pain and talking to the females. Definitely, I could do what I want to do now being independent. You never know what we’re on.
How did you link up with Ty Dolla $ign and PARTYNEXTDOOR on “Breather”?
I’ve been knowing them. I did some records with Ty Dolla $ign in the past and this is what we pushing. PARTYNEXTDOOR is my people too. I wanted to do something different and get them to connect on a record. We did it through email. I wanted to think outside the box, that’s why I did it. Who would expect them to be on a record with me? Definitely gearing toward the females more.
You talk about abusing Percocet at a young age on “When I Was Little.” When did you start and was that a tough habit to shake?
I was like 16-years-old. It was just my choice of drug at the time. For the video on that track, Jerry Productions directed it and it was a whole thing we did. Me and DY Krazy got like 30 songs together. [Jerry] wanted to shoot a video and we set it up so fast. Jerry is on point with it. If I tell him, “Let’s shoot a video tomorrow,” he’ll write the treatment and get the place set up. We could shoot like 10 videos in two days if everything’s in order.
Why did you move from Chicago to Atlanta?
Just getting away from Chicago for some new air. Atlanta is definitely where it’s at. I still go back to Chicago a lot though, I got family there.
You beat Bow Wow for $10,000 recently in basketball.
Bum! [Laughs] I was talking shit to him on the court when we won, like, “What happened, Calvin [Bow Wow’s basketball-playing character in the 2002 movie Like Mike]? You lost your shoes?” We got a lot of [basketball] competition coming up as far as playing with more rappers. He paid me and when I saw his girlfriend recording I told her, “You better not just put this up as highlights.”
Who else do you want to get in this tournament?
We got PnB Rock, Chris Brown, Tory Lanez, and I already beat Bow Wow. Swae Lee hit me too, but that’s going to be a walk in the park. He’s got to come with it. We do more like five on fives for money. We’re just having fun though.
Do you watch The Chi on Showtime and does it encapsulate the real Chicago?
Yeah, that shit’s good as fuck. I actually just watched it in like three days. I’m ready for a whole other season already. I wasn’t up on it, but it’s super dope. That’s why I fuck with it, that’s the type of shit that goes on [In Chicago] for real, especially with [Jacob Latimore’s character]. They made it perfect and the Chi-Raq movie was ass. I’d never advise you to go see that. When it dropped it was like High School Musical.
What is your final goal for Only the Family Entertainment?
Label deals with artists and I want it to be as big as I could make it. I want to set up a good future for RondoNumbaNine. We’ve been back and forth with lawyers on his appeal and it’s looking really good. He’s going to get out soon.
What’s the plan for the rest of 2018?
Just working. Keep applying pressure and doing everything we always wanted to do. We’ll be moving around and doing festivals. I’m supposed to be doing Rolling Loud. Gearing up for fashion weeks. I want to start being there and in the mix. I’m going to be on a lot of upcoming mixtapes.