Drill was labeled the most influential subgenre of rap from 2010 to 2020 and its popularity has spread globally. One documentary highlights teenagers from Ghana obsessed with Chicago drill rap endeavoring to become drill rappers themselves, another highlights Aboriginal gangs in Australia making drill rap songs, as well as those in Brixton in the United Kingdom. Lill Durk was a pivotal pioneer of drill rap. The rappers affiliated with local street gangs make songs repping their gang, boasting about prominent shooters of their gang, brag about murders committed by their gangs, and insulting dead members of rival gang. Lil Durk was there from the early days of drill, appearing right beside Chief Keef with a gun.
In one Lil Durk’s first songs “L’s Up”, Durk, a Black Discple, disses two sets of the rival Gangsta Disciples. The song worsened an already existing gang war in Chicago. It was in retaliation to a direct diss by drill rapper Lil Jojo. Lil Jojo said in his song titled “Black Disciple Killer”: “Lil Durk said fuck bricksquad so I can’t wait to catch him, put this fucking forty in him now they got him on a streecher.” Tragically, Lil Jojo would would be fatally shot and killed after the release of his song. True to drill fashion, Lil Durk would not let Lil Jojo rest in peace. He continued dissing his slain rival in his song “This Ain’t What You Want” in which Lil Durk would rap: “fuck Jojo.”
While Chief Keef was the first drill rapper to be signed to a major record label, he was not as successful. He failed to break into mainstream music and would eventually be dropped by interscope. However, Lil Durk became the first drill rapper to have commercial success. In 2021, Lil Durk had the most hits in the top 100.
The Curse of Lil Durk
Though Lil Durk would make it out of Chicago with success in the rap industry, his producers, his manager, and several artists that Lil Durk signed to his OTF record label would be tragically shot and killed. Lil Durk’s cousin, Nuski, would sign to Lil Durk’s Only the Family record label only to be killed two days latter. Lil Durk’s manager, Chino, would also be shot and killed. Several drill rappers signed to Lil Durk’s record label, Only the Family, from La Capone to King Von, would also be shot and killed. Other drill rappers signed to his label, from Rondanumbanine to Cdai, would have their rap careers curtailed after being charged, convicted, and sentenced to prison for first degree murders. It was as if there was a dark cloud looming over the Chicago native to where observers referred to it as “the curse of lil durk.” One commentator writes “all the murderers he signs to his label get popped or end up in jail for their old bodies.” Is it true? Is Lil Durk cursed?
Can the curse of Lil Durk Be Broken?
Lil Durk frequently raps about his father receiving a life sentence in prison “Son needed his daddy, I still need him right now/He doing life in the Feds need that appeal right now” Lil Durk’s father, known as “Big Durk”, was the former right hand man Larry Hoover, the founder of the Gangsta Disciples in Chicago. As a former leader in the gang, Big Durk ran a multi-million dollar enterprise distributing crack-cocaine throughout Chicago in the ‘90s. The federal government would of come hard against the Gangsta Disciples and Big Durk was given a life sentence. Some believe the sentence was due to his refusal to testify against Larry Hoover. When talking about his father in an interview Lil Durk stated in “My Dad in the feds[federal prison] and he’s the preacher for the Muslims.”
While in prison, the father of the future pioneer of drill rap, would not only convert to Islam but become the Imam within federal prison. In a message Big Durk would give from prison, he would state
As it started I had a life sentence,… but by the grace of Allah, I got that blessing and won that appeal. I will be out in a few years to be with my sons to be where I am supposed to be in life and do the things that I am supposed to do as a father.
Beginning in 2016, many observers began noting several Islamic refences in Lil Durk songs causing many to wonder if he had become Muslim. In “Viral Moment” Lil Durk would spit “ I changed my life, I’m Muslim.” In his song “Grow Up” he raps ”Greet my daddy and all of his Muslim brothers, I be like “Salam.” The overt references to Islam in his song prompted Dj Vlad to ask Lil Durk if he was Muslim, and if so, was he born Muslim or did he convert? Lil Durk clarified that he converted to Islam and cited fellow rap artist Ralo and his father as his influences. His father, Big Durk stated:
One of the greatest joy any father can have is when his son is guided to this way of life, Islam. It is the greatest blessing of all. I’ve been blessed that both of my sons are interested in Islam. Every time, I get the chance to speak to them through phone calls, I try to give them knowledge about this deen, this way of life. This is the honor of every father to his son. This is the one thing that politicians, people in the political realm do not understand when it comes to changing them streets, changing them inner-cities, changing that violence out there, the one thing that they need out there is Islam. Allah will not change he condition of a people until they change that which is in themselves.
King Von, Lil Durk, and D-Rose
The murder of Davyon Bennet is often cited as evidence of the ‘Curse of Lil Durk.’ Black Disciple member, Davyon Bennet, had been in and out of jail for most of his life and at the time of his murder was under investigation by the Chicago Police Department for multiple murders. In 2017, Bennet successfully beat a murder case after the key prosecution witness refused to testify again him. In an effort to get him off the streets and improve his life, Lil Durk would extend to Davyon Bennet a record deal, where Bennet would adopt the drill rap name King Von. King Von became prominent for being an authentic gangster rap. His music resonated with many disenfranchised Black men who went through the criminal legal system. In one of his greatest songs “How It Go” Von provides tips on how to handle being interogated by the police: “And don’t say shit, give a fuck what they say they know…Give fuck what they find (damn), give a damn who they get.” In “What It’s Like” he discusses the tribulations of being charged by the government with murder.
It seemed that King Von was on his way to take his place in the pantheon of drill rap but tragically his budding career was cut short as he was shot and killed outside of a club in Atlanta. A fist fight erupted between King Von and rap artist Quondo Rondo. During the altercation a member of Quono Rondo’s entourage, Lil Tim pulled out a gun and shot King Von. Some believe King Von’s reputation as a “killer” caused Quondo Rondo’s entouerage to overact and bring a gun to a fist fight. Whatever the reason, the killing of such an important figure and rising celebrity intensified the volatility between the Black Disciples and Quondo Rondo’s entourage. In the drill rap tradition of adding insult to injury Lil Tim would make a rap video where he refers to King Von as a “bitch”, a “pussy nigga” and boasts of how good his aim is.
Rappers began to question Lil Durk’s street credibility for his failure to retaliate against the murderer of the star rapper of his record label. Rival rapper Tekashi 69 dissed Lil Durk stating “”Your man got shot, he not coming back/Go get a gun and get some get back/You a bitch, I knew you wouldn’t ride for your homie.” However, Ahbir known as “D-rose” a child hood friend of Lil Durk and Chief Keef, had a different message for Lil Durk. While D-rose appears right beside both Chief Keef and Lil Durk in their early drill videos, today they are in widely different places. Hip-Hop City notes that “While Chief Keef and Lil Durk were touring the world and becoming millionaires, D-Rose was left to rot in jail even though he was the main shooter in the gang who helped the Black Disciples gain the respect they had all across Chicago.”
From behind prison bars, D Rose underwent a major transition. He would convert to Islam. In an interview with Black Dawah Network founder Hakeem Muhammad D Rose shared the profound impact that the Muslims had on him. He said during his time in Stateville: “I’ve seen in physical form the unity of Muslims while in prison. I saw them being humble, having self control, being firm in their beliefs. I saw them teaching and being steadfast everyday in their saalats. I saw them speak with intellect and use the best of speech to each other. This continues to attract me to Islam, inspires me and motivates me. I‘ve seen these characteristics in so many Muslim Men. Every day I see the same firmness and steadfastness. It has rubbed me in a way that I love. I took my shahdah in 2015.” He affirmed his diligence saying: “I been making my salaat five times a day, getting up, I have not missed my fajr prayer at all. You hear me Hakeem?”
Today, D Rose is as committed to Islam and changing the condition of his people as he was to gang life. D-Rose urged Lil Durk not to fall into the cycle of retaliation stating:
“That is our brother in faith, Lil Durk is, and I know what Lil Durk’s father and everyone who really loves him is telling him. Do not get any revenge. Think about Allah(swt) and the day of judgment, this is what it is about in the end.”
The culture that drill rap spawned of calling rival gangs of other black people “opps” has spread beyond the genre and even Chicago. D Rose has since taken an different stance on this slang which romantacizes murdering young black men. He told us to remember “What Malcolm X used to say about the so-called negro? We got to start saying the so-called opps.” No one who could relate more to King Von than D-Rose. In the song “What’s Its Like”, King Von raps “I was in the cell with D-Rose when they gave him that time, shit hurt my soul.” Despite D-Rose’s friendship with King Von he encouraged Lil Durk to aspire for something higher pay back:
“I want Durk to invite everyone to the Mosque to listen to the Imam speak about the Holy Qu’ran and to learn how beautiful Islam is and inshallah, Hakeem, Islam can give to our people what Islam has given to us which is the peace and humbleness.”
While Lil Durk’s music still narrates the harsh realities of Chicago street life even celebrating it at points, it periodically conveys the positive influence from his Muslim father. In a tribute to King Von, Lil Durk raps about the criminal legal system which ensnared King Von and target so many others:
He just finished doing ten, don’t see no jail walls
You can never mention homi’s in a jail call
You gon’ go to trial, the state gon’ try to play you
They gon’ give you max if they able
Or yo’ bond gon’ be so high ’cause they think you Abel
Look at yo’ skin, why you playin. you know them crackers hate you!
The lyrics pose a powerful question that Black youth in gang life must ask themselves: Why involve yourself in criminal life that destroys your own people and at the same time delivers you into the jaws of the system of white supremacy? You are helping the true enemy-your real opps-to “kill two birds with one stone.” You are part of a machine designed to put black people in the ground or behind bars.
Islam has given these two men a different model of black manhood. Under their faith tradition masculinity is self-restraint, wisdom, and the courage to enjoin what is right and speak and act out against what is wrong. In a message to Lil Durk, D-Rose stated: “Tell our brother in faith, Durk, keep finessing rap and I know Durk can transform rap.” Lil Durk’s father, Big Durk, stated in a interview from prison “You will not change the condition of a people until they change that which is themselves.” This is a verse from the eleventh ayot of the thirteenth surah of the Holy Quran. It implores man to change themselves instead of waiting for the world to change around them because it is by changing ourselves that we affect our environment.
Lil Durk is young man moving towards the good of Islam but if he is to escape the pull of the Chicago street life then the Muslims must encourage him. They must edify him for his good deeds in the same way that the streets edify him for his bad deeds. The ummah must affirm his efforts to become a force of positive change.