Like people 1.5 times my age (27) and older, the intrigue in this new trend of melodic rap/hip-hop has been something we complain about when compared to others who deliver in more esoteric and nuanced ways, like Denzel Curry or 21 Savage. However there have been a few that have kept my attention, even if a little belated in the trend; and from the few that have, Lil Baby and Lil Durk have released their first collaboration, The Voices of The Heroes. This LP from the Atlanta and Chicago rappers, respectively, arrived with a lot of buzz and heartwarming gestures as it was pushed back a week so it wouldn’t compete with DMX’s Exodus. And despite the hype, the album delivers exactly as expected – mild. It’s riddled with so many sonic and contextual redundancies, it’s hard to distinguish these tracks apart without hearing the producer’s ad-libs at the beginning of the tracks, but there is enough to keep your interest at various moments.
The initial hype behind the release of The Voices of The Heroes had some merit from Lil Baby’s monstrous 2020, and Lil Durk turning out some consistently great verses since Drake’s “Laugh Now Cry Later” and reaffirming on “Every Chance I Get,” off DJ Khaled’s latest release. But the production comes from 12+ producers that don’t bring much to the table, so the way the autotune is used to inflect and add layers to the flow gives it that extra boost to make the production become an afterthought and the rappers take center stage.
A lot of the production hits the same notes, where the little differences come from them subtly sprinkling underneath the base of the production. You can tell who mainly produces what by the intro drop that hypes the producer’s name. And though a fan of it, it feels like this overly reliant on it to keep the monstrous percussion and bass keep its redundant consistency hidden from the overall spectrum. From Wheezy to London On The Track and Murda Beatz, the many co-producers make it seem that there should have been some derelict of the duty to make it sound different, but the landscape is a flat terrain. You’ll either find songs that are good and bad based on what Lil Baby and Lil Durk bring to the table with their verses, delivering auspicious themes.
The Voices of The Heroes is filled with themes they’ve tackled before. Some pertain to the struggle imposed by societal and political influence on minorities, and others to their wealth in a generalized sense. And Lil Baby and Lil Durk bring a lot of energy and bravado in their deliveries on most of these tracks with enough momentum to keep some of these on loop. There are many moments that keep you flowing with that constant momentum like on “2040,” or “That’s Fact.” It benefits that a lot of the production has that repetitive consistency so it is almost natural for them to flow over them. But it’s when they steer in a more conscious – or rather conscious based on their standards – that they shine as rappers.
On the London On The Track produced “Still Hood,” Lil Baby and Lil Durk vibrantly deliver this anthem where they exclaim with emotional weight the notion that you can take the kid away from the hood, but you can’t take the hood away from the kid, though in this regard its meaning is more aligned with the PTSD that comes from it. On the track, both Lil Baby and Lil Durk trade off verses, retelling their life and the huge contrasts it has to their person today. These artists have climbed the ladder of success and often let their appearance tell different stories about who they are, opposed to the person they rap on their tracks. And with unique twists, they take the approach to redefine music as they call out faux “hood” rappers and personalities on “Lyin’.” As they have done throughout tracks on the album, they’ve delivered bars after bars that carry depth about their past life and their current life. For example, we’ve seen rappers like YG flaunt like these artists, but like others he still has affiliation with a street gang and that life is still part of him, despite his monetary wealth. The same goes for Lil Durk. But as it is with them all, they try to spread awareness through their music.
However, there are more moments than not where it treads too much on redundancy that you find yourself going back to older tracks evoking similar themes. “Okay,” is one of those where they spend too much focus on the flex, that everything that is already problematic with the production becomes more apparent. The percussion led production is one-dimensional and doesn’t go anywhere interesting. Lil Baby and Lil Durk can’t save this as they bring a slightly weak delivery that becomes sleep inducing. They do something similar on “Hats Off” with Travis Scott, where the construct is fun and infectious as they trade off on many occasions before Travis closes strong.
The Voices of The Heroes is muddled with a bloated tracklist running 18 tracks long, but there is fortunately enough to keep the music flowing. Lil Baby & Lil Durk have great chemistry and their future looks bright if they continue to collaborate. Their stylistic similarities and energy they have consistently stored in the tank can keep any fan somewhat invested throughout.