There’s no doubt that our great country is in a state of unrest; political turmoil, violent protest, and deep ideological divisions have become part of our national consciousness. Terrorists are waging war on our ideas of freedom, we are crippled by our reliance on fossil fuels, and the police are gunning down minorities in the streets. Who can save us from this hopeless situation, or at least distract us long enough that we can find some semblance of peace?
That’s right, Lil Durk.
After a stellar 2016 that saw the release of two solid projects and countless features with high profile artists, Durk is back and poised to expand his sound into the murky waters of what we’ll call “trap R&B,” for lack of a better word. While his last few tapes have been packed full of stripped down, 808-driven exercises in nihilism, Love Songs For The Streets unexpectedly pivots and puts the Chicago rapper’s full focus on complicated relationships, unrequited love, and the spectrum of human emotion. There is real pain here, real heartbreak, but also the kind of optimism for the future that, up to this point, has been mostly absent from Durk’s output.
The first voice we hear at the start of opening track “No Choice” is Durk’s, but not drowned in autotune or floating into a soprano register as we’ve come to expect from his most personal moments. With no backing instrumental, the OTF general launches into a two minute rant about the industry, his home life, the details of his move to Atlanta, and his plans for 2017. It’s surprisingly raw and heartfelt, harkening back to his father’s speech at the beginning of 300 Days 300 Nights but giving us an even clearer insight into a man who has often hidden behind the savagery and violence of drill music.
The next few tracks, “Pick Your Poison” and “No Handouts,” are standard Durk fare, with sunny and bass-heavy beats buoying his voice as he switches erratically between flows and busts out booming hooks that are sure to be featured prominently in the captions of your favorite Instagram model over the next week. The real highlights come later, although the tape itself is only nine tracks; “Mood I’m In,” a collaboration with YFN Lucci, is a clear standout, with the two rappers feeding off each other’s energy and showcasing the kind of complementing style that could make for a satisfying full-length album sometime down the road.
Durk is really putting the spotlight on his singing chops here, hitting notes that are out of his usual range and exploring new and exciting sounds. “Where Were You,” with Young Thug and Yung Tory, might be one of the best tracks I’ve heard thus far this year, with Durk crooning over an acoustic loop while Thug coos in the background, creating a truly romantic atmosphere that lives up to the name of the tape. There’s plenty on here for the fellas, but there’s a lot for the ladies to enjoy as well. The grit is still there, but there’s also a real intimacy to this music, as if something truly private is being shared with the listener.
After half an hour of aural delights, Love Songs ends rather abruptly with the tepid “What If,” featuring cheap Jeremih knockoff TK Kravitz and an instrumental that sounds like it was mined from a pre-teen producer’s Youtube channel. There’s nothing interesting or groundbreaking going on here, and Durk sounds almost exhausted, like he left everything on the field and is now phoning it in during the final stretch. It’s disappointing, considering this is some of his best work since Lil Durk 2x, where he experimented with a similar R&B sound successfully on “My Beyonce.”
There’s a lot to love here, and while it might not be the highest point of his discography, it’s short, sweet, and of high enough quality to enjoy over and over again. If you’re a Durk fan, this is an essential release. If you’re not, listen to it anyway. You might find something you like.
Highlights: “Where Were You (feat. Young Thug & Yung Tory)”, “Mood I’m In (feat. YFN Lucci), “No Choice”
Final Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Listen to Love Songs For The Streets here.