It’s been a long road to crossover stardom for Chicago rapper Lil Durk, but he appears to have arrived there with new set The Voice, released at the end of 2020. The set debuted at No. 46 on the Billboard 200 albums chart after just a day of release, and reached a new peak of No. 2 in January.
This week, the album returns to its No. 2 high, thanks in large part to the release of its deluxe edition, which tacks an extra 12 songs onto the 16-track original album. At the same time, Durk notches eight entries on the Billboard Hot 100, with three new entries off the deluxe, including the Lil Baby-featuring “Finesse Out the Gang Way” (No. 39) and the Pooh Shiesty-assisted “Should’ve Ducked” (No. 53).
Will any of the new songs become lasting hits? And is Durk on the verge of superstardom? Billboard staffers answer these questions and more below.
1. Lil Durk ties his peak with The Voice — and for his entire catalog to date — by leaping back to No. 2 on the Billboard 200 this week. Perhaps more impressively, the album has been in the chart’s top six all six weeks of its release. How has he been able to maintain such high-level performance with the set?
Josh Glicksman: Durk has stayed in the spotlight for the past several months, be it his Drake feature — and subsequent Grammy nominations — back-and-forth jabs with Tekashi 6ix9ine or Kanye-themed music video. But beyond all of that, his non-Voice collaborations have both grown his fan base and given current followers continual reasons to return to his catalog. Since November, he’s worked with Pooh Shiesty (“Back in Blood”), French Montana (“Brothers”) and Kehlani (“Love You Too”). And though he’s reaching new commercial heights, don’t discount his prior pull: Love Songs 4 the Street 2 and Just Cause Y’all Waited 2 visited the Billboard 200’s top five in August 2019 and July 2020, respectively.
Carl Lamarre: Consistency. If you think about it, Durkio’s torrid run dates back to his criminally underrated 2018 project Signed to the Streets 3. Since then, Durk has pummeled the competition with heavy-handed heaters including “Homebody,” “India Pt. II,” “3 Three Headed Goat,” and more. His features have also been equally stellar, most notably Drake’s “Laugh Now Cry Later” and Pooh Shiesty’s “Back in Blood.” Homie hasn’t had a bad game, practice, or scrimmage in the last three years.
Jason Lipshutz: It’s been a combination of three factors: Lil Durk’s larger profile following a winning 2020, most notably as the guest on Drake’s smash “Laugh Now Cry Later”; the release of The Voice during a particularly sleepy stretch for album releases; and, most importantly, the high quality of the new album, which is a more complete and star-studded project than last year’s table-setter Just Cause Y’all Waited 2. The Voice includes both a guest-heavy stretch on the track list — Young Thug, YNW Melly and the late King Von are all featured — as well as a run of solo songs that demonstrates Durk’s growth as a frontman.
Heran Mamo: The sentiment behind the album, paying tribute to his childhood friend King Von after he was fatally shot in Atlanta last November, hooked fans at first. From there, his melodic chops coming out of Chicago’s ‘10s drill scene took off on songs alongside A-list rappers Young Thug and Lil Baby, as well as R&B crooners 6LACK and Kehlani. His music isn’t “Look at how hard I am and look where I’m standing now” — it’s more “Look at how hard it was where I was standing, and look at who I’m bringing with me out of that place.”
Andrew Unterberger: Impressive productivity, smart timing and strong songs have really made the past year-plus just one non-stop crescendo of career momentum for Lil Durk, right up to this latest deluxe edition. It’s no surprise he now seems primed to be one of the most ubiquitous rappers of 2021.
2. The set is obviously helped this week by a deluxe reissue which introduces a dozen new songs to the track list — including two, “Finesse Out the Gang Way” with Lil Baby (No. 39) and “Should’ve Ducked” with Pooh Shiesty (No. 53), with strong debuts on the Hot 100 this week. Do you see either of those songs becoming the breakout hit from The Voice that the set hasn’t otherwise quite generated yet?
Josh Glicksman: That depends on how we’re defining a breakout hit — with its No. 53 high, “Still Trappin’” has to at least sort of count, right? Regardless, “Finesse Out the Gang Way” feels like the answer here. Chopsquad DJ’s production plays right into Lil Baby’s rattling flow style, and Durk’s pivots between rapping and singing are some of his smoothest on the entire album. Given that the two were recently spotted together, a music video may not be too far off, either. And with Lil Baby’s recent success — five top 20 entries on the Hot 100 since late July, two of which have come via feature — he’s no stranger to elevating songs to hit status.
Carl Lamarre: I don’t know if either record will topple Shiesty’s “Back in Blood” since the Memphis rookie is currently hip-hop’s latest obsession. While both songs are formidable, it’s hard to see them dash past their current spots — which is crazy to acknowledge because Durk is officially a steady resident on the Hot 100 charts, something we couldn’t say at the start of his career.
Jason Lipshutz: Much like the songs on Pooh Shiesty’s new mixtape Shiesty Season, “Should’ve Ducked” is eerie and delightfully menacing, with the Memphis rapper bringing Durk up to his level of intensity over a punchy trap beat. It’s a great track, but “Finesse Out The Gang Way” has the bigger hit potential: Lil Baby and Durk breathlessly recount hard times over a piano line that will elicit shrieks whenever it drops in concert. I wouldn’t be shocked if it swells up the Hot 100 and eyes the top 10.
Heran Mamo: The chatter around Pooh Shiesty could definitely help vault “Should’ve Ducked” higher on the Hot 100. Fresh faces in hip-hop are already kicking ass and taking names a little over a month into 2021, like Erica Banks with “Buss It,” so we’re going to be seeing a lot of new names climbing the chart. What really makes Durk and Shiesty click is that they’re telling the same survival stories of the streets (from different cities) — but the first’s delivery is smooth without sugarcoating, while the latter simply serves up his verses straight up.
Andrew Unterberger: I’d put my money on “Finesse Out the Gang Way” having a decently extended shelf life, thanks largely to the piano-led production of Chopsquad DJ, primary sonic architect of the late King Von’s Welcome to O’Block album and his signature hit “Took Her to the O.” The twinkling keys and booming bass of the beat give the song a gravity akin to Lil Baby’s “The Bigger Picture,” and even if “Finesse” doesn’t have quite the weight of that topical 2020 smash, I could see it having a similar impact for many listeners.
3. Speaking of Pooh Shiesty — you can also find Durk at No. 37 on the Hot 100 this week as a guest of Pooh’s on the Memphis rapper’s own steadily climbing breakthrough hit, “Back in Blood.” What kind of chance do you think “Blood” has at becoming Durk’s second top 10 hit as a featured artist (after Drake’s “Laugh Now Cry Later”)?
Josh Glicksman: I’m telling you there’s a chance — and if I were a betting man, I’d say a pretty decent one, too. On charts dated Feb. 13, the song holds its top 10 spot on Hot Rap Songs and enters the top 5 on Rap Streaming Songs for the first time. Plus, with Pooh Shiesty dropping the full Shiesty Season project on Feb. 5, and “Back in Blood” holding the coveted second spot on the tracklist, I’m expecting it to get a real nice boost on the charts after the album completes its first full week of tracking.
Carl Lamarre: I’m going to say 70% chance. As of now, Shiesty controls the pulse of the streets alongside his brethren Durk. Because people are now starting to see how unrelenting this militant duo can be on the mic, momentum is quickly heading towards their direction and fast.
Jason Lipshutz: “Back in Blood” is undeniable, with the type of instrumental and hook that could deliver an underground artist to the major leagues, and Lil Durk’s upper-register flow serves as the perfect complement to Pooh’s Memphis drawl on the track. Pencil this in for the top 20, and potentially a stay in the top 10, of the Hot 100.
Heran Mamo: Before, my money would’ve been on “Stay Down” by Durk, 6LACK and Young Thug, but it didn’t move past No. 73 last month. “Blood” is already faring way better, especially since Durk delivers the hard-hitting hook that’s made the rounds on social media and been tweeted by Roddy Ricch: “Pooh Shiesty, that’s my dawg, but Pooh, you know I’m really shiesty.” Since that’s been sticking with listeners, the song’s heavy rotation will make sure No. 37 isn’t the highest summit the song ever visits.
Andrew Unterberger: Shiesty Season is upon us, and with the new mixtape’s Friday release, “Back in Blood” is sure to see a decent-sized jump on the Hot 100 next week. It might not go top 10 immediately, but considering how fast it’s already been growing to this point, I feel like there’s at least a 75% chance it gets there soon enough.
4. It’s a fairly bold statement to name your album The Voice. Do you think Durk earns the title on his set — with or without the deluxe additions — as either a writer or performer?
Josh Glicksman: Labeling Lil Durk as the definitive voice of the streets after this album likely remains a stretch, but it’s evident that he’s going to do whatever it takes to put himself in the conversation. Besides, with all of the “God” and “G.O.A.T.” talk that gets tossed around in rap lyrics, song and album titles, “The Voice” doesn’t feel all that egregious to me.
Carl Lamarre: I’ll take “The Voice” moniker over his hyperbolic “Chicago’s Jay-Z” claim any day. What’s admirable about Durk is how he continues to stay true to the trenches, even when he peeks his head out on the mainstream circuit on a feature. Nothing changes in his artistry, even when he aligns himself with A-caliber stars.
Jason Lipshutz: As much as Lil Durk levels up on The Voice and its recent deluxe edition, titling an album ‘The Voice’ without any affiliation with the NBC reality competition makes for a tricky scenario. My advice to Durk would be to lean into the dissonance and name your next project American Idol and get Ryan Seacrest to narrate it, a la Morgan Freeman on Savage Mode II. Who wouldn’t want to hear that?
Heran Mamo: I’ll say he does as a writer here, since Durk’s lyricism definitely speaks to how he wants to be remembered as in the “trenches” of Chicago, which has been the central scene of each of his songs.
Andrew Unterberger: Well, the man himself attempts to explain the title claim at the end of the Deluxe Edition’s “Switched Up”: “I just feel that the streets’ll listen to me — and I’m saying that s–t different, you know.” Based on the response to the album so far, certainly can’t deny that folks are listening.
5. Though Lil Durk has been steadily growing in mainstream popularity for basically an entire decade now, he’s probably still one level below rap’s superstar class. What do you think he still needs to make the jump to the A-list — and do you see him getting there before year’s end?
Josh Glicksman: It feels like Lil Durk still needs to find that big solo hit in order to make the jump. He’s been filling up the stat sheet for the past year, but hard to argue that he doesn’t owe at least a portion of that success to his big-name collaborators. Now that Durk has an undeniable following, I wouldn’t mind seeing him slow down the torrential output for a bit and focus on creating the solo effort that will push him to the next level. I don’t quite think “Kanye Krazy” is it, but it’s on the right path, at the very least. A-list by year’s end? Definitely possible. Superstar? That may take a little longer.
Carl Lamarre: I think if Durk secures a solo smash and that elusive No. 1 album, it automatically puts him in the discussion.
Jason Lipshutz: It will be interesting to see if Durk can cement his status with one signature single in 2021: The Voice certainly has some surefire hits, and non-album tracks like the Pooh Shiesty collaboration “Back in Blood” will likely keep rising, but Durk might need to release one more single later this year to bring an already-fruitful 2021 into the stratosphere professionally. The move would be analogous to what Lil Baby did last year — his My Turn album hovered at or around the top of the Billboard 200 chart for weeks in the first half of 2020, but it was “The Bigger Picture,” released during the Black Lives Matter protests, that became his highest-charting Hot 100 hit and pushed him to a new level of stardom.
Heran Mamo: If Durk gets Kanye on a track, he’d be set. There was a meticulous attention to detail in his recent “Kanye Krazy” music video, and the two Chi-Town rappers were spotted linking up in Atlanta last fall. A hometown anthem from these two would for sure make way for Durk in rap’s superstar class. Regardless if the ‘Ye collab materializes by the end of this year or not, I don’t doubt Durk could make it.
Andrew Unterberger: It’s really just that one solo hit that everybody knows. Durk has hits, at least as far back as 2013’s “Dis Ain’t What U Want,” and obviously “Laugh Now Cry Later” brought him to a new level of pop exposure. But to land that one absolute knockout of his own, the one that plays all summer on radio and is similarly unavoidable on TikTok and Twitter — that’s the only thing his resumé is really missing at this point, and it seems like the time is right for us to get it in the next six months.