Coming of Age
Lil Durk’s been hanging with wolves for a while, but he realized it was time for some change. Development and deeper connections within himself and with those around him are part of his next phase. Meet Durkio 2.0.
Words: Georgette Cline
Images: Travis Shinn
Stylist: Jenna Demaio
Editor’s Note: This story will appear in the Spring 2023 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
There are three Ds currently on Lil Durk’s mind, and it’s not diners, drive-ins or dives. The 30-year-old Chicago rapper adamantly refuses to be a deadbeat, a dumbass or in debt. There’s too much at stake for Durk, a certified rap star who’s become much more than his self-proclaimed designation, The Voice of the Streets, over the last four years. He’s arguably The Voice of the Streams, too. The studio is a safe space for Lil Durk, where he not only records No. 1-selling albums and those multiplatinum-streaming hits but also handles business.
On this late March afternoon, Durk Banks is at a small studio inside a Los Angeles mansion perched in the Hollywood Hills, openly discussing the ways in which he’s been doing just that. As the artist who once made a song called “No Interviews” sits back, relaxed in a black Bottega Veneta windbreaker, Prada T-shirt, Amiri jeans, G-Fazos and a Saint Laurent ski mask—the latter four all white— his tunnel vision is on the big changes he’s just made. Out with the old, in with the new.
One thing isn’t switching up though: Durkio’s consistency. Seven albums, 10 solo mixtapes, five Only The Family (OTF) projects and one joint LP with Lil Baby over a 12-year rap career. Durk certainly has numbers on the board since he’s been rapping a third of his life. Four years ago, the Love Songs 4 the Streets 2 album was the turning point of his livelihood. The Grammy-nominated artist’s visceral survival stories, rebellious bars and Auto-Tune croons were felt beyond the trenches when he earned his first No. 4 spot on the Billboard 200. What followed was continued elevation on the same chart with his next projects: Just Cause Y’all Waited 2 and The Voice, both No. 2 in 2020; The Voice of the Heroes with Lil Baby, No. 1 in 2021; and 7220, No. 1 in 2022, and the second-highest selling hip-hop album of that year behind Future’s I Never Liked You.
The success has also been clouded with the nadir of his career in recent years. Legal issues like a 2019 shooting case in which he and the late King Von, who was signed to Durkio’s OTF label, were charged with criminal intent to commit murder, among other offenses. The charges against Smurk were dropped in 2022. Then there were the deaths of both Von and Durk’s brother, DThang, in 2020, and 2021, respectively. Fans feeding into an alleged beef with YoungBoy Never Broke Again didn’t help either. Durk is never one to say names, however.
He’s focused on leveling up, which is marked by The Voice 2.0, his new album to be released in the coming weeks. Durk’s evolution is captured in the cover art created by A$AP Rocky and the Harlem rapper’s creative agency AWGE. The eighth LP in Durk’s catalog represents a move to a more superior version of himself, in which therapy, prioritizing his children and giving back are essential. Here, Lil Durk keeps it real on all that, plus the rumors of a Future joint album, his WTF moment with Jay-Z and what’s really going on with him and his (former?) fiancée India Royale.
XXL: How’s life right now? What kind of space are you in?
Lil Durk: Great space. Creative space. Thinking space. To myself space.
Why is that, sometimes to yourself?
I can think better to myself. Not a lot of opinions around. Not a lot of bad opinions around. I had to change my circle. I’m tryna win.
When you say you changed your circle, you mean management, business, friends?
Everything. Management, friends, circle, drivers, security, everything.
When did you make that change?
December . When I started paying attention to my own business. So, I know what comes in and out. I know what my bills is. I know everything going on at the time.
I was just letting everything be what it was. Everybody had to do everything for me. Outstanding invoices going out, overpaid. People overpaying theyselves.
Your new album, The Voice 2.0, is going to be a reflection of some of your life changes. What’s your vision for it?
Growth. That’s what the 2.0 stand for, just be on another level. Just not only music-wise, like the things around me like I told you, growing from the friends around me, management. Sitting with the mayor. We doin’ big charity things. Neighborhood Heroes, the foundation I got.
So, we just doing different things, ’cause if you say you The Voice, it’s like, OK, you The Voice of the Streets, so what happened? What you do? I did this, this, cool. OK, now what you do for the kids? Nah’m sayin’? So, now we just breaking it down. So, we doing this, we doing this, we doing this. Not only on Thanksgiving, not only on Christmas, just on a regular basis, helping people.
You have a song with J. Cole on the album.
Definitely got J. Cole on “All My Life.” It’s just a rap that’s just showing you what I been going through. What I been doing lately. Trying to change how I am. Dr. Luke produced it. We were just trying to figure out like what’s the right person to put on it. ’Cause it’s one of those songs where if it’s not the right person to do the second verse… I feel like Cole can bring the energy that I’m looking for to it. So, if it wasn’t J. Cole, it’d be [Kanye], but Ye, he tucked away somewhere.
You’re The Voice of the Streets, but do you feel like you’re bigger than that? Are you a voice of a generation, also?
Yeah, generation, everything. To me, it’s the world. But when I say Voice of the Streets, it’s just where I came from. Where I come from, what I overcame. So, when I say that, like my voice this, 2.0 this, it’s just showing growth of what I been through.
You’ve been able to put legal issues behind you, like your 2019 shooting case. How do you move past those moments?
I just go with my gut feeling. Like it’s nowhere to explain it. It’s no type of magic. I say, “I’m finna go to this, to this restaurant, or this store,” and something be like, Nah. I ain’t gonna go. I just follow that. Ever since I’ve been doing it, I’ve been on the right path then to now. Me trying to keep up with my money and keep up with why this ain’t going like this, it got me to this position right here.
See, and I know [someone] wasn’t doing his job. He was overpaying himself. Start making me pay close attention. But it all started with my gut feelings. Leaving all the cases behind me, nah’m sayin’? Growth. It’s just time to live.
Do you think you’re on a clean slate now?
Yeah, I’m getting there. Ain’t nobody perfect, but I’m definitely getting there. It’s definitely a change around.
Last year, there was talk online trying to connect you to a RICO case. What are your thoughts when you see your name attached to something like that and no charges have come to you?
See with me, it’s like I’ve been here before. Like it’s my second time on Earth for some s**t. So, being around what I used to be around years ago, before everybody started rapping, I’ve been in my head, always looked at different things like, Damn, this federal, this could be this, this could be this. So, things people saying and seeing now is like, I’ve been heard. I’ve been seeing. What the difference is people think it can’t happen to them.
So, that’s a lot of reasons why I don’t do a lot of s**t. Like [social media] views, back to clout-chasing and all that s**t, ’cause too much to lose. Too much on the line. Like whole the [Young] Thug situation. The whole world was just “Thug,” “Slime” crazy. Then just turn around and look what happened to him.
You’re always showing love to King Von, keeping his name alive after he’s passed. Were you supposed to be there celebrating with him the day he died?
No. We was in Houston. They was celebrating [in Atlanta]. He was doing what he supposed to do. You can’t stop God’s plan.
What was the first thing that went through your head when you got the call telling you he died?
They were saying he got shot when I was on [Instagram] Live, and it was like, “Von had got shot.” So, I called him. And they was on the stage. I’m like, what the f**k? So, when we hung up, then it was like he got shot after that. I cope with death differently from everybody. I can’t say the whole Chicago, it’s like, we’re used to it.
You’ve lost important people in your life, from your past manager, OTF Chino, in 2015, then consecutive years of Von and your brother, DThang, being killed. What helped you to keep moving forward during those moments of great loss?
Just kids and all our goals. My brother goals, do this. Von goals, do this. Chino goals. So, I used all our goals. I feel like if I stop, or do some dumbass s**t, it’s like they passed for nothing.
When you make songs like “Ahhh Ha,” and you rap, “Don’t respond to s**t with Von,” why say that to the trolls that are out there, or the people who speak negatively on his name?
Yeah. That type of s**t right there, just like feed the fans. Tell ’em what y’all wanna hear type s**t. So, I don’t even consider that, took it serious, the song.
Do you think the fans play into the beef they think is out there?
Yeah. They play for everything on the internet.
How much do you play into it, though? On your IG, sometimes you post and you’re not saying anything to anybody specifically, but you’re writing toward someone it seems.
See, so, anything I say or do, it be like assumptions. It’s like you can make your own. If you say this was about him, then that’s what it is, but that’s what it’s for. So, I put it out a certain type of way and don’t say a name. This could be about anybody.
Do you feel you play the internet game well?
Yeah, just by not responding at all.
Your kids and the goals you have are what’s keeping you motivated. How many kids do you have? What are their personalities like?
Seven. So, we got Big Sky, Baby Sky, Zayden, Du’mier, Willow, Bella, Angelo. All of ’em just special. All of them got a trait of me in ’em. Zayden’s super smart. He like computers and stuff. Baby Sky crazy like me. Big Sky is India’s daughter. You know I’ve been there for her. So, she one of mines. She actually smart as hell. She would try and teach me how to dress. Willow’s mean and sneaky. Angelo, sneaky. He like me, like quiet time, but when he get comfortable, he talk and play and do what he supposed to do. Du’mier, he know the songs. He wants chains. He come with his own money in his pocket. Bella, outspoken, gonna say what’s on her mind. Super smart and don’t play about me.
You mentioned India. Are you and India together or still broken up?
She always gonna be my girl. We always gonna be together. That’s who I’m dying about right there.
You’re very open about sharing your feelings for her on social media when you go through relationship issues. Why do you do that?
Yeah, ’cause it ain’t a look, it ain’t a rap, it ain’t an album sale, it ain’t a competition. It ain’t a “I can’t look like this,” ’cause it’s real. So, if I feel like this, “Hey, no, don’t post this. Don’t post that. You gonna look soft, don’t.” I still posted it, and that’s just what it is, nah’m sayin’? I just never feed into the internet for real.
What me and her go through in the house, we go through in the house. Everything that you see on the internet about me and her is fake. Like the having a baby on her, all that s**t, that’s not nowhere near reason that we be having our little problem.
So, for the record, you did not have a baby on India?
OK. ’Cause everybody thinks that.
I just don’t feel that it’s a need for me to go up there and be like, “I did not have no baby with…” If you go up there and say you didn’t, they still gonna say you did. So, it’s like, well, as long as the house is the house, the internet can’t change the perspective of nothing. It’s the same with beefing, and that’s the same with trolling. If you respond, you respond.
Do you think when it comes to certain beef, these days, it’s not worth it?
Yeah, it’s the money. Just get the bag, and get out the way. You a billion away from one word, one sentence can f**k it up. So, you be real strategic of what you say to try to get some views.
“YOU A BILLION AWAY FROM ONE WORD, ONE SENTENCE CAN F**K IT UP. SO, YOU BE REAL STRATEGIC OF WHAT YOU SAY TO TRY TO GET SOME VIEWS.”
Which artist who came before you do you look at their career and are inspired to build an empire of your own?
I’d say Jay-Z. S**t, look what he did. Résumé speak for itself. He used to be in this position. He used to be the underdog. The streets used to take him under. And he bossed up, nah’m sayin’? You ain’t see him post pictures every day tryna fit in.
Has he ever said anything to you that you kept close because it was memorable?
Yeah. I seen him at [businessman] Michael Rubin’s party [in 2022] and he like, “Man, you motivate me.” Man, f**k me up. I forgot my reply to him, ’cause it was on a walk-by. The reply ain’t make no damn sense ’cause it shocked me. I’m like, What the f**k? Damn, that’s hard.
How’s that make you feel when Jay-Z, in that level of his career, is looking to you when you’re looking up to him?
It’s just motivation. Everything happens for a reason. It was for a reason I was standing right there when he walked past at the time. You know, it’s probably people that be around him every day or be around Drake every day and wasting time. And they won’t be like, “Lemme learn how to engineer.” “Lemme learn how to shoot videos.” “Lemme learn how to…” They just want to soak up the air. I’m like, nah, I’m gonna get to it. I’m gonna figure this s**t out for us.
You have a new album, but the fans still want your No Auto Durk project with Metro Boomin because you’ve teased it. Is that album still coming?
Yeah, that’s something me and Metro definitely talked about. And ’til this day we talk about it. You never know. I just really put a lot of thought into a lot of stuff now where it’s like, could this work? Could this not work? With Metro, he one of the producers that’s gon’ tell you anyway. I don’t want a bunch of yes men around. Want muthaf**ka tell you, “That’s weak” or “That s**t ass.”
Is there any truth to the rumor that you and Future are putting out a collab album?
Me and Future got a thousand songs together. We talked about it one day in the studio, about doing a collab album. Just going crazy, dropping, dropping, dropping. And from that studio session, everybody knew about it. We gon’ make it happen.
Something I’m definitely gonna do. I won’t put a timeline on it. It’s something we gon’ do for the culture. Outside of the music, our bond, you know, we been locked in. He always been giving game. Since the beginning-beginning. My older brother passed, DThang, they was super close, so we got history together. That’s why I say the culture move would be like, “Damn, that’s hard.”
What’s the last thing that made you feel good outside of you doing things for others?
India, nah, I’m just playin’. Being more open. Being more open to letting [my new manager] Pete [Jideonwo] in. Moving certain people out the way. That’s the best feeling. Therapy, the kids, the new team, all that. But the best feeling is really just starting over.
You have a therapist now?
I got a therapist so I cope different. You know, it don’t just gotta be I’m finna go take all these drugs, or I’m finna go get my feelings like this. I got my family, I got my girl, I got a therapist, I got my kids and I got the studio.
“I GOT MY FAMILY, I GOT MY GIRL, I GOT A THERAPIST, I GOT MY KIDS AND I GOT THE STUDIO.”
Why did you start going to therapy?
I don’t show emotion. So, some people will be like, “Man, you can’t hold it in.” And I just can’t talk to nobody usually. That s**t like a bank. Your feelings is like a bank. It was like, I want to loan you this money, but I know you’re gonna go spend it, f**k it up.
So, you gotta be careful what you tell people. You gotta be careful how you tell people, what you tell people, because they can use it against you. They can find out your weaknesses.
By me doing that, for all these years, I got used to it. So now, when I talk to the therapist, then it start getting more emotional. But like somebody on the street, you’ll never even see me shed a tear.
Did you start going to therapy for the losses that you dealt with, whether it was your brother, whether it was King Von?
Nah, I think I had to go to therapy fresh out the womb.
You wanted to get your GED. Is that something you’re still planning to get done?
Yeah. I got a tutor now. I did it before, but I was unfocused. I just started back. So, definitely doing good with that. And just getting my mind and my body right and getting more into the religion [being a Muslim]. Just making my brothers and them make better decisions. Leading by example.
This new chapter of Durk is you starting over. What’s your goal in this next part of your life?
Putting the team on, putting the family on as a whole. Just, you know, how Roc-A-Fella and them was and just building an empire. Just build an empire outside of music.
I always had the mindset of what I wanted to do, or how I wanted to be. And can’t nothing change if I don’t change.
“I ALWAYS HAD THE MINDSET OF WHAT I WANTED TO DO, OR HOW I WANTED TO BE. AND CAN’T NOTHING CHANGE IF I DON’T CHANGE.”
Watch Lil Durk Name His Top Five Favorite Rappers and Go Behind the Scenes of His XXL Magazine Cover Shoot Below
Read Lil Durk’s full cover story interview in the Spring 2023 issue of XXL magazine, on newsstands now. Check out additional interviews in the magazine, including conversations with Coi Leray, Joyner Lucas, Fridayy, Lola Brooke, Key Glock, Luh Tyler, Destroy Lonely, DJ Drama, Blxst, Curren$y, Finesse2tymes, Vic Mensa, Toosii and actor Tyler Lepley, plus a look at how famed hip-hop attorney Bradford Cohen helps clients like Drake and Kodak Black beat their cases, veteran photographer Johnny Nuñez tells the behind-the-scenes stories of 10 of his iconic hip-hop photos, six rappers from six different eras—Melle Mel, MC Shan, RZA, Lupe Fiasco, B.o.B and Cordae—discuss the change in hip-hop over 50 years and a deep dive into the city of Memphis becoming a breeding ground for new rap talent.