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The Voice of the Heroes

Lil Baby  Lil Durk The Voice of the Heroes


  • Genre:


  • Label:

    Quality Control / Motown / Alamo

  • Reviewed:

    June 8, 2021

While not quite a marquee work for either artist, the new team-up is reliably consistent and casts them as a natural pair—near-ideal complements to one another in writing and execution.

At 28, Lil Durk is only two years older than Lil Baby, though he comes from another era entirely. When he was still a teenager in the early 2010s, Durk recorded many of the songs that would make drill music a phenomenon in Chicago and then nationwide; Def Jam signed him, intent on packaging the sound for a mass audience, then botched his debut. Instead of disappearing from the pop charts or from rap’s stylistic cutting edge, Durk gritted his teeth and kept working. He moved to Los Angeles, he cut a better album for Def Jam, and he doubled down on the mixtape ethos that drove his career in its early stages. In 2017, six years after his breakthrough with I’m a Hitta, he moved again—this time to Atlanta, which had become the unquestionable center of the hip-hop industry. It was around this time that Lil Baby had finally entered the picture.

While Durk was hopping across the country and trying to refine his commercial approach, Lil Baby, a native Atlantan, was in and out of jail on a series of drug charges. He was also poised and preternaturally cool—which might explain why his longtime friend, Young Thug, would pay Baby whatever money he might make during a day in the streets to come to the studio instead. When he did commit to music, it was an onslaught: Baby dropped five solo records in 19 months, an instant favorite of fans, and then critics. Last year, his phenomenally engrossing album My Turn and the Grammy-nominated protest single “The Bigger Picture” made him perhaps the hottest rapper alive. Lil Baby and Durk’s new joint album, The Voice of the Heroes, is not quite a marquee work for either artist, though it is reliably consistent and casts them as a natural pair—near-ideal complements to one another in writing and execution.

As a vocalist, Durk is more broadly emotive and consistently animated than Baby. While much has been made of the way Future uses Auto-Tune’s eerie technological aftertaste to accentuate human pain, Durk is due credit for being one of the effect’s most nimble users, deploying it to keep the listener at arm’s length or to lure them in, underscoring melodies or cutting atonally against them. Baby, by contrast, raps in a rolling, post-Thug legato—a flatter affect punctuated by brief moments of musicality. The fact that the rappers’ voices default to similar registers but are used in such different ways means they often weave in and out of each other’s territory; on one song, Durk will ground Baby, and on the next song, the roles will be reversed. (In this way, Heroes is the direct opposite of 2018’s Drip Harder, where Gunna nearly always acts as the foundation while Baby riffs on top.)

Beyond the clever interplay of the vocal takes, the two expand their world with specifics—like on “Lying,” the way Baby sneers about someone who commits “a little fraud” in order to buy his necklace. Durk’s verse on “How It Feels” is a masterclass in this, at times exultant (“I know how it feel to pour a four right by Obama house”), poignant (“I know how it feel to wake up cut up from them bed springs”), or downright chilling (“I know how it feel to have the killers tell you everything”). Durk has made a career processing sometimes unspeakable tragedy in real time, and this willingness to be raw in front of an audience occasionally coaxes something similar out of Baby: see “Make It Out,” where he raps—almost as an aside—“You don't know how it feel where, everywhere you live, you get evicted.”

Heroes is overly long and sequenced in a way that sometimes undercuts its effectiveness—the title track and lead single opens the album despite being its weakest song. Yet even the pockets of similarly-tempoed tracks are filled with enough charisma from the rappers—and muscle from the beats—to avoid feeling rote. Most impressively, Durk and Baby surpass the numerous team-up records that have been released since streaming was monetized by meshing their styles into a smart, integrated whole.

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