Chicago rappers nicknaming their city “Chiraq” sums up the tragic current conditions of the major midwest city—a warzone. Without having to visit, one need only listen to local Drill rappers like Lil Durk and Chief Keef to hear and experience the effects of the rampant violence tarnishing the city’s reputation.
We all know Chief Keef serves as the sub-genre’s ambassador with his supposedly nihilistic music; cultural pundits point to him as the embodiment of Chicago’s deterioration. Hip-hop has and always will receive scrutiny for perpetuating violence, misogyny, and all that’s rotten, but what are we all, if not a product of our environment? On Lil Durk’s new mixtape, Signed to the Streets 2, he further depicts the desperate, nightmarish state of Chicago.
A level of authenticity characterizes the project, giving it weight and power. The first forceful three songs tart the project off almost militantly with Durk rapping urgently about the persistent paranoia and constant chest-puffing required to survive. “Is it true you got shooters hangin’ out the roof?/I’m just trynna to do what I spit in the booth,” Durk begins over Cardo’s gutter bass and submerged synths on “Ready For ‘Em.” Right away, he acknowledges his music as a reflection of what goes on around him, which rap constantly does even if in a more subtle manner. Later he raps, “Call Zoo, he be ready every time I do/Shot clock but he ready every time to shoot (a pretty clever basketball metaphor),” which points to how violence surrounds people in the city at all times.
The third track, “War With Us,” continues to relay how he and his enemies live. “How you want war and you ain’t eating?” Durk asks. You need to back up your talk or else Durk won’t take you seriously; his environment requires everyone to continuously assert their masculinity or there’s no chance of earning your colleagues’ respect.
Durk uses a couple common rap techniques to accent the personal portrayal of Chicago like name-dropping his friends and crew members—a few of whom are either dead or in jail. Referencing one’s friends and loved ones in songs isn’t unique, but nonetheless the frequent mentions to the people in his life immerses us further into it. On “Ten Four,” he uses another common rap technique putting in audio of police radio activity to let the city further envelop, or engulf, us.
Along with these first few tracks, “Don’t Know Me” also paints a compelling picture of the politics within Chicago’s crew hierarchy and the fatalistic nature of Durk’s existence. He dispenses advice for dealing with this type of life like “hide your finesse game,” and “eat with who you sleep with.” The best line in the song, “Murder rates so high cause of the body count,” is an obvious statement, but powerful because of its naivete. He simplifies the whole situation that we on the outside find so disturbing and incomprehensible on a certain level. “Every day newscasts say a body found,” reiterates the commonplace violence Durk and his crews face everyday. We see these newscasts and shake our heads disapprovingly, while they accept it as a fact of life and continue their attempt to survive.
The repetition Durk speaks of materializes in much of the tape, which theoretically is cool if one hears it as another method of reflecting his life in his music, but still, listening to 18 tracks with similar content becomes tiresome. The phrase “shooter’s on deck” feels like it makes an appearance a dozen times, for example. Granted, he does throw in two more celebratory songs (“Party,” backed by a solid beat from Young Chop and “I Made It”), one dealing with romance (“What You Do To Me”) and yet another weed & lean track (“Gas and Mud”) for some variety, but these records don’t have the visceral qualities of the highlight songs.
The tape’s soundscape, marked by murky synths, cinematic strings, auto-tune and monotone bass, grows tedious with repeat listens. Still, Lil’ Durk always sounds in command of his flow and the beats beneath it, whether he’s straight rapping or crooning melodiously with some vocal support. While his subject matter tips towards the more brutal, he doesn’t reach the pure aggression of some of his other colleagues, utilizing his voice to enter some different emotional territories. Another side of a violent city.
2.5 out of 5
You can download Signed to the Streets 2 here.