Lil Durk – 7220

Continuing the same kind of impressive release pace that allowed him to revitalize his career at a later age than most rappers break onto the scene, Chicago’s own Lil Durk’s latest project has materialized only a week after the first posthumous album by his close friend King Von, a major presence on Durk’s last solo work released shortly after his passing and contained some surprisingly heartfelt and emotional material. Although the album’s title, 7220, pays homage to Durk’s grandmother’s address, we don’t get too much more personal content from him here – instead, Durk slowly begins to drift away from his formulaic piano-based melodic tunes and dials up the aggression, his beat selection certainly on an upward trajectory. Durk sounds hungrier than he usually does throughout most of this project, and while it still gets bogged down by some of his ugliest tendencies when it comes to lyrics, vocal performance and the general album length, this is arguably his best work so far.

There likely aren’t many artists on Durk’s level of fame that have experienced as much pain as he has, as a shocking number of his close friends and associates have passed away since his newfound fame. While there are a lot more threats to be issued in response on this album, the opening track “Started From” finds Durk in a place of reflection. While the typical pianos are here, the wailing electric guitars buried slightly in the mix are a nice touch as Durk speaks about seeing the struggles of everyone around him in the neighbourhood where he grew up, toasting to his grandma as someone who helped build him up and eventually make it out. Something about Durk’s borderline arrhythmic flow actually works in his favour here, as he crams too many syllables in sounding as if he simply needs to get something off his chest and sounds a lot more believable than many of his contemporaries. When the trap beat on the next track “Headtaps” is added, however, that effectiveness becomes diminished as the groove is locked in. With some more generic lyrical moments about tragedy and death, it feels like Durk should have chosen one of the opening two tracks to include. “AHHH HA” picks up the energy in a huge way with a highly aggressive track addressing his ongoing beef with NBA YoungBoy and the gang wars that led to King Von’s passing. Durk essentially morphs into a murderous version of Nelson from The Simpsons here, issuing taunts with a childish glee over a horror-movie piano score and ghostly wails – you know a track will be hard when it opens with a disclaimer that it shouldn’t be taken at face value lest the contents are used against him in court. “Shootout @ My Crib” continues with some more eye-opening, vivid and specific bars about shootings and violence that we know are real, despite being mixed in with some of Durk’s unpalatable and seemingly obligatory bathroom humor.

The combinations of some of Durk’s best and worst aspects continue, though hearing his more passionate performances – clearly inspired by real-life events – overrides things in most cases. “Golden Child” contains some more questionable lyrics, but Durk’s speedy and technical performance is a highlight on the brief trap banger. It’s a little harder to overcome the lyrical content on “Petty Too” and “Barbarian,” however. The former brings Future on board for some rather problematic and concerning bars – they do refer to Future as the patron saint of toxic masculinity, after all – while it’s hard to take Durk seriously on the latter when he juxtaposes a heartfelt bar about loss with an overly crude X-rated joke. Still, tracks like “No Interviews” and “What Happened to Virgil” feel like they’re destined to break out. “No Interviews” has an ear-grabbing instrumental of twinkling harpsichord keys and one of the catchier choruses here as Durk actually turns away from the drugs in the wake of more senseless deaths of cultural leaders, while Durk’s singing is at its best on “What Happened to Virgil.” He captures a bit of Juice WRLD energy over some bubbly and bright chords, elevating past his usual meandering melodies to something a little more memorable. Gunna keeps up for the most part on his feature, but it’s telling how much better of a singer Durk comes across as here – especially when we get a pretty inexcusable performance from him on the very next track.

It’s possible that Durk might be taking some vocal inspiration from his newfound country friend Morgan Wallen on “Grow Up/Keep It On Speaker,” as there are some highly bizarre vocal inflections on this one in a wide variety of ways as some vaguely twangy guitars echo behind him. The oddest of all is Durk drawling some extended notes while holding the note on a grating “r” sound. “Smoking & Thinking” finds him completely reusing a very memorable and distinctive bar – though not for a good reason – on a track that feels sonically repetitive and contains an unfinished-sounding hook. “Blocklist” and “Difference Is,” however, turn things back around before the album’s final run of tracks. “Blocklist” captures a similar genuine energy to the opener, as Durk sounds legitimately hurt about a relationship falling apart, while “Difference Is” brings Summer Walker on board for a 90s slow jam as the two sing sweetly about how they knew they found the one – save for a couple more gross TMI bars from Durk.

The inconsistencies – many coexisting on the exact same track – continue as things wind down. Still, the extra bit of effort from Durk to elevate things past his usual fare is still noticed even this far down the tracklist on songs like “Federal Nightmares.” Despite a pretty unlistenable vocal effect during the chorus, the piano-trap beat is a little more noticeable than usual. “Love Dior Banks” has a touching opening from Durk’s niece as he dedicates the track to his recently fallen brother, as the track also adds on a nice soul sample and some interesting heavy-duty drum fills into the instrumental. The project closes with two singles in “Pissed Me Off,” a more aggressive track in the aftermath of his brother’s passing, and “Broadway Girls,” a collab with the aforementioned Morgan Wallen which might just have some of the worst chemistry I’ve heard on a track this decade.

There’s still a handful of things that are clearly a little too ingrained in Durk’s musical DNA that he needs to overcome before making something truly great, but this is another step in the right direction. With the right producers on his side and a better understanding of his strengths – and hopefully, a lot less tragedy in his life – Durk could continue his steady ascent.

Favourite Tracks: AHHH HA, Started From, What Happened To Virgil, No Interviews

Least Favourite Track: Broadway Girls

Score: 6/10

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