Durk never poses, except with his punk vest
When drill first started really poppin my brains told me, "Yo, you should probably sit this one out." I was in la-la love; my mindstate was more "Sending All My Love" than savage hellscape. So to all you vociferous boosters, please pardon my relative indifference. Guess you had to be there.
While I'll never claim to have any great love for drill music, I do respect it for having a coherent aesthetic in an age when most "genres" and "movements" are meaningless, superfluous, or nonexistent -- usually some configuration of the above. In my 25 years on this planet, I have never seen a form of music inspire such divisive yet equally valid reactions. Detractors commonly fixate on its nihilism and supposed simplicity, the very same features the cultural groundskeepers of yesteryear once denounced in punk and gangsta rap. But drill has a more organic integrity than punk, a media creation that pitted together three very different bands as its figureheads. Gangsta rap engaged the culture wars at large, whereas the debate over drill is largely intracultural. Conversations tend to focus on debasement of genre rather than society as a whole, an irony that the Calvin Buttses of the world might consider proof of prophesy.
Ten years ago Lil Durk's Remember My Name would have been a grand exercise in dropping the ball, but fortunately for him, major label debuts just don't have the resonance they once did. Durk's album is a relatively undistinguished project that might have been more at home on DatPiff than Def Jam, as is increasingly the case in an age when the main difference between mixtapes and albums is DMCA complaints. This could have been a chance to make some kind of statement for drill as a music or movement or diseased stump, but Durk doesn't even give himself the chance to fail spectacularly: he compromises, resulting in an identity crisis of awkward crossover attempts amidst new iterations of his original process.
Which isn't to say the album is a failure. Durk, like drill itself, may just not be for the pop charts. In spite of his melodic tendencies, Durk's best music is not welcoming. It is bleak to the very edge of Gothic, a drab funeral song accompanied by monotonous warbling. Rather than Gangsta Rap Part Two, Durk and the drillionaires have more in common with the insular tradition of street-punk, from D-beat to the dregs of New York hardcore -- an avant-garde of the working class and not-working class, born of alienation and blight. These are apocalyptic takes on expendable youth under late capitalism, searching for satisfaction in the mindlessness of violence and intoxicants.
This is war music for the hopeless, and much of its criticism boils down to thinly veiled disdain for the lumpenproletariat having any voice at all. It's understandable: listen to either genre exclusively for a week, and suddenly the world seems very cold indeed. What kind of person could subject themselves to anything but small doses? In its relentless wallop, "500 Homicides" shares more with "The Blood Runs Red" than any superficial similarities it bears to Migos Gang's latest comic-book caper (Duck Tales of the rap game, but that's a diff'ent thinkpiece for a diff'ent day). More surprising than Durk making concessions is the fact that Def Jam thinks it can sell his dystopian mutation of pop music. Imperfect as Remember My Name is, I hope he succeeds.