Next month south-side rapper Lil Durk will release his debut studio album, Remember My Name. It’s been several years in the making: Durk signed to Def Jam in 2012 when drill burst out of Chicago’s underground, went on to ink a deal with French Montana’s Coke Boys in 2013, and dropped a few mixtapes while slowly working towards the eventual release of Remember My Name. As his appearance on last year’s XXL Freshman cover suggests, he’s a rapper on the rise, one whose nonmusical notoriety has also climbed. Durk’s been in and out of jail on gun charges, and some of the folks in his circles have been going through rough times, including members of his Only the Family crew. In March of last year affiliates RondoNumbaNine and Cdai were charged with murder, and in May rapper OTF Nunu was shot and killed. Last week Durk’s manager, OTF Chino, was shot and killed, hours after meeting with Bulls center Joakim Noah to talk about the basketball player’s antiviolence campaign.
OTF Chino’s death also came several days after Durk dropped his single “Like Me,” which smoothes out drill’s rough edges and transposes its machine gun percussion onto an overcast R&B melody. In the Reader‘s 2014 Best of Chicago issue Miles Raymer called Durk the “Best Rapper Taking Drill into Pop,” and the execution of “Like Me” supports that notion. Sharing the mike with local R&B singer Jeremih, whose smooth vocals were inescapable last year thanks to his ratchet Billboard hit “Don’t Tell ‘Em,” Durk easily transitions into the role of rapper-qua-singer. He drapes his voice in a thin layer of Auto-Tune, and switches between short blocks of speedy rapping and emotive crooning—he’s not much of a singer, but his expressiveness makes up for it. There’s a twinge of sadness in Durk’s performance, particularly when he says Chicago’s “murder rate’s so ridiculous.” Given OTF Chino’s recent death it’s easy to hear a line like that and be struck by its plainspoken sorrow.