ALBUM REVIEW: Lil Baby/Lil Durk, The Voice of the Heroes
Lil Baby and Lil Durk have teamed up for their much anticipated collaborative record, The Voice of the Heroes. This was an album that I went into with mixed feelings. On one hand, I really wanted this to be good. Lil Baby is one of my favorite rappers of the new generation, and is arguably at the top of his class by any metric. Durk is an artist that we’ve all watched grow into the superstar that he is now. Since his grind in the Chicago drill scene in the 2010’s, Durk has been an artist that has shown glimpses of greatness but for whatever circumstances, has not been able to fully actualize that potential until now. Both of these artists have had excellent, recent runs, and they don’t look like they’ll be slowing down anytime soon. Yet, on the other hand, hip hop hasn’t had the best track record with large scale collaboration tapes in recent memory. With the Exception of the Metro-21 tape, many of the duo tapes of recent memory have been mid to trash (think Drip Harder, The Carters, WRLD on Drugs, and Pluto x Baby Pluto). Add to that the fact that Baby and Durk have a very similar style of rap, and you can see why I went into this with mixed feelings. I’m happy to say that this record has little in common with the disappointments I mentioned earlier, and actually manages to create moments that rise if not soar above them.
It’s a genuine delight to witness these two artists work together and it’s what makes this collaboration stand out amongst its peers. It’s rare that two artists are built so perfectly to work together. To illustrate this consider Baby and Gunna on Drip Harder, a team up that we were all certain would be a match made in heaven. Baby and Gunna had basically come up at the same time, and their styles complimented each other very well. We all remember how that turned out though. Track after track of low quality, low effort performances. I bring this up to point out that it doesn’t necessarily matter how well suited artists are to work with each other. They still need to bring the necessary effort and performance to make the album interesting. The worst thing this album could have done was to be truly boring. Luckily, for us, Durk and Baby figure out the perfect balance between their styles, finding a really nice balance and complimentary approach.
This is best seen in the opening/title song of the album, “Voice of the Heroes.” Here, Durk and Baby set up the dynamic of the album, highlighting their differences while building upon their shared traumatic experiences. In the song’s chorus, Durk passionately sings, “See, I'm the voice, Baby, he the hero / Baby, he the hero / I’m the voice, but Baby, he the hero / But Baby, he the hero.” The choice of words here is really important. When we get these kinds of collab tapes, we often go into them hoping that we have a Voltron experience where two artists fuse into an even stronger force. Yet, as attempt after attempt has proven, this is usually easier said than done. What Durk and Baby have accomplished, which other artists can learn from, is they identified their particular strengths both in styles and narratives, and used them to compliment each other’s perceived “weaknesses.” Put simply Durk is a street dude who prefers to stay out of the limelight, so he plays the role of the voice, his ability being able to speak to those in his former position in a way that others cannot. Yet he lacks the palatableness of Baby, who plays the role of the hero. Baby is the idealization that people can look up to through his massive success and drama-free rise to stardom. He’s an inspiration, despite coming from the same circumstances Durk did. However, together Durk and Baby become something much more than what they could be separately. They become an idea. I think the way these two artists articulated this was so cool, and it’s a theme that we see throughout the rest of the album.
While they definitely work well together, Baby and Durk also know how to play their roles, with Durk’s effort shining through as the highlight of this tape. Generally, Baby takes the lead on most tracks, his strength shining through in the moments meant to be pure inspiration. These are songs like “2040,” “Hats Off,” ‘Still Hood,” and “How it Feels.” Baby plays this role well, charging the album with an air of hope and light that compliments Durk’s darker vision. The album is full of lines where Baby is flexing, which is really fun to watch and motivating to see. On the banger “Hats Off” (feat Travis Scott), Baby opens his verse with the line, “Change my name to the kid, that's a baby goat / Keep a Drac' like I started up OVO / You can get a percent, but I want the most / Got a house with a lake, so I bought a boat.” On the equally lit “2040” he raps, “I'm doin' donuts in my neighborhood, it made me feel good / I swore I would never do that shit again, but still do it / I feel better with no IG but I'm too big of an influence.” Durk takes lead on darker tracks like “Voice of the Heroes,” “Who I want,” and “Medical.” Despite the simping, “Who I Want” is a beautifully dark love song, carried by Durk’s soulfully twisted chorus. Durk sings, “She tryna fuck me when I'm fastin', she can't come around no more / Walked in the house, my pants unfastening and she swallowin' it whole / But it's you who I want (But it's you who I want) / But it's you who I want (But it's you who I want).” To use this as the only example is unfair to Durk honestly because he went hard on every track he was on. Durk is the MVP of this album, and you’ll find a lot of his verses are the most powerful. I think back to a line that still haunts me on “Still Hood,” where Durk raps, “Auntie fucking in the bedroom / I had to sleep inside a n**** bathroom / Putting duct tape on the air mattress, so the air wouldn't really leave from.” It’s lines like this that makes many of these verses gut wrenchingly familiar.
While there are a number of highlights on this album, it begins to lose some of its glamour the longer that you listen to it. The album starts out really strong. “Voice of the Heroes,” is a phenomenal opening/title track that sets the tone well for the rest of the album. The song focuses on the artists’ upbringings and the challenges that they’ve had to overcome on their paths to greatness. The opening line, rapped by Durk, says everything, “Missed out on my kids life for a year and I gotta accept it.” The production here is great, and the beat really fits the dramatic and self reflective tone of the album while still keeping a dark edge. The second track of the album, “2040,” switches up the tone slightly and goes into banger mode over a hype, braggadocious beat. This is the cardio in the gym song we all wanted. Baby sets the tone and pace well, spitting at a lightning speed, and giving us a classic Baby chorus. Durk however comes in and completely steals the show, slowing down the flow, and bringing an edgier swag to the track. Durk raps, “I pay rent to lawyers, got the Lamb' truck cash / I can't rent no Goyard / Growers call growers for that weed, just to fill this order (Gang) / I know bitches act like they know Baby, so they feel important (Let's get it) / I know n***** pay niggas for safety, so they get extorted (Pussy)”
The third track of the album, “Hats Off,” is one of my favorite. It’s one of the few tracks with a feature, and Travis, Durk and Baby give a hell of a performance. Although it’s not the most original subject matter, the juxtaposition of the three artists’ style is so satisfying to hear. Travis Scott also gives on of his best verses in a while (it was looking scary for a second), as he floats in with a futuristic elegance. In his best melody of his verse he raps, “Now he back outside and see lil' bro, he got believers / R.I.P. Big Tone, I know you see us/ Sorry, gotta fuck on the low, I can't make Cheaters / Dawg, we got it bussin' out the bleachers (Yeah) / It's jumpin' like wall to wall.” “Who I Want,” is a simping song with a crazy good chorus, and a stellar flow by Baby. It’s after these tracks though that the album begins to falter. The tracks become way too similar to the point where it starts to get hard for me to mentally differentiate between them. Tracks like “Still Hood,” “Lying, and “How It Feels,” standout to me, but the subject matter/style is all stuff you’d anticipate. In terms of low points it pains me to call out Meek but “Still Runnin” is an automatic skip for me. It feels like a song that should have been off a Dream Chasers mixtape like three years ago. Durk saves this song with a verse where he calls out all his opps, rapping “You do it for what? You better not say that you do it for D-(Boom), them n***** be tucked / That n**** was fucked, the moment he ran and he knew he ain't duckin', his ass out of luck / We do it for Von, we don't wait 'til it die down, we load and we do it tomorrow.” The other songs I’d say are worth checking out are the Young Thug featured, “Up the Side,” and the soulful Rod Wave feature, “Rich Off Pain.”
Should you listen to this album? My answer is maybe. It’s definitely not for everyone, since its focus is really only on growing up in the hood and overcoming those challenges in one of the most dangerous time periods in recent memory. A lot of the messages and themes of this album can literally be seen in real life, as we saw when Durk’s brother was killed only a couple days after this record dropped. This is a record born out of pain, loss, and sacrifice, but it’s also an album built on hope. This is an album I turn to when I need a boost of motivation, but I wish I could say it will have long term replay value. Unfortunately, only a handful of songs will make it into my future playlists, but those songs reach a level close to perfection. I know there’s a lot of people just shitting on this album and that’s fair, but I also hope I was able to highlight some of it’s more interesting nuances that, to me, make it a project well worth listening to.