Despite the industry rat race to obtain the following, fame and money has offered diminutive relief to the peace of mind of Chicago rapper Lil Durk. The ambitious drill-scene sergeant, throughout his come-up, has weathered more than most in his 22 years, having endured the vehement streets of his Southside Chicago neighbourhood to build-up a nascent rap career that has welcomed five mixtapes and a debut album Remember My Name, out June 2nd via Def Jam Recordings. But even the dream of major label success has come with its own set of harrowing setbacks, as the last few months have brought adverse loss to the young rapper, over the death of long-time manager Uchenna "Chino Dolla" Agina and Coke Boys comrade Chinx Drugz, who were both recently gunned down in separate tragedies.

When I first met Lil Durk in 2013, he stood under the spotlights of Spring4th Center in Atlanta at A3C's ninth annual hip-hop festival, surrounded by an enormous chain-gleaming entourage that included his two loyal allies, Chino and Chinx. Chicago artists such as Lil Bibby, King Louie and Katie Got Bandz hit the Quad stage at the Chicago Hope showcase offering Chi-town unity and fervent energy to the week-long rap festival, but it was Durk who closed off the show and set the stage ablaze to his unrelenting auto-tune heavy hit 'Dis Ain't What You Want." It was a profound moment for Durk and the immense talent hammering throughout from the windy city, but a lot has changed for the drill music spitter since then.

On March 27 of this year, OTF Chino was fatally shot and killed in the parking lot of a restaurant in Avalon Park. As Durk has contritely confirmed, he had been on the phone with his manager just 10 minutes prior to the murder, in a short exchange where the two traded specific ideas regarding Durk's upcoming debut album, Remember My Name. Chino's untimely death came only two days following the announcement of the forthcoming release, which prompted Durk to continue towards to release date without his right-hand, who had been an imperative part of his career and come-up. Now, at the pinnacle of his career, he was left with only their vision.

"It was like he was still here," Durk somberly states over the phone. "Because I know what he wanted. We just stayed focused and continued to put it all together still."

Yet calamitous news continued, when only two weeks ago, news broke that Coke Boys companion Chinx Drugz had died from a fatal gunshot wound after a drive-by shooting in Queens, New York. Although pressed by the tragedy, Durk's attention to creating a legacy-leaving project only elevated in significance. "I've got a good support team. I'm just staying focused and staying out of the way. You've got to do what you got to do and keep your head up. You've got to forget about the negative stuff," Durk ensures.

The goal for anyone tangled in street life is to make it out and away from its consequences, but what happens when despite achieving success, the tragedies that come with the lifestyle endure? This is Durk's current dilemma as he presses on, a few bodies short. Remember My Name is a 10-track debut that was originally slated to pay declaration to Durk's own legacy and the city he hails from. But when asked if the album now symbolizes a memorial for his fallen familia, he answers: "Definitely, which is why we're working on this project, to show everything we accomplished."

With the new project, Durk has claimed responsibility for the role as representative for his headline-making home of Chiraq, demanding the byline to write his own first-hand testimony of life on the notorious Chicago streets rather than letting it be told through captions and news stories. "Everybody reads about Chicago and the streets and I want to be that spokesperson. It's a good city with good artists. They've got to understand everything we went through to even get to where we are now."

Chicago beat-makers, Young Chop and DJ L offer familiar production on the drill-music full-length as Durk has chosen to stick with loyal collaborators behind the boards. "I was just working with the hottest producers. They knew my sound so I just rocked out with the producers who were rocking out with me when I was trying to come up," he explains.

But in regards to feature vocals, his philosophy detours, as surprising additions from Def Jam label-mates Jeremih and Logic offer alternative guest vocals that showcase growth and experimentation for the young rapper. "I wanted to do something different and them two are way different. I wanted to work with people I wouldn't normally be with. I enjoyed it. New energy and reaching new fans."

Although pressures like first week sales and industry critique linger over the album's release, Durk confirms his sole focus lies on the fans and the achievement he's reached by even creating the personal debut. "I'm proud of the album and this whole project. All of the tracks mean something to be on the album," he says. "I'm excited to see what it is but I'm more excited to just get my music out there. I just want to create my own lane and let the album go as far as it can and I appreciate whatever it do."

And despite the year he's had, the pitfalls, triumphs and the lingering unknown, Lil Durk reveals he's looking forward to the opportunity to only expand, develop and continue the OTF vision for himself and those cut short of joining in the grossed success. "I want to be far from where I am as a better artist and a better performer, touring across the world and opening more doors."


Remember My Name is out tomorrow (June 2nd, 2015).