Whether you want to admit it or not, superstar rapper team-up projects have become stale.
Gone are the days where the conjoined forces of two rappers at the top of their game generate musical moments that transcend their legacies; in its place, a saturation of star-studded collaborative efforts favoring the passable over the historic.
There are obvious issues with Watch The Throne and What A Time To Be Alive, but they still felt like moments where you had to link up with your friends and listen. The latest team projects of YG/Mozzy, Future/Lil Uzi, Benny The Butcher/38 Spesh, and plenty of others are solid (ok, maybe not all of them) but are quickly forgotten.
One exception is Lil Baby and Gunna’s 2018 collaborative project, Drip Harder. It was a rare lightning-in-a-bottle moment where two rappers on the cusp of superstardom and top festival billings combined to shore up each other’s weaknesses. Now, they’re some of the hottest artists out, with Baby coming off an MVP-level 2020.
Lil Durk is one of the most influential artists of the past decade, a Chicago legend who helped bring Drill music to the forefront of rap. However, he never reaped the benefits after label mismanagement and legal issues robbed him of his moment in the sun. But Durk finally got his due in 2020, with several successful projects and a song-stealing feature on Drake’s hit song “Laugh Now Cry Later.” That momentum has continued into 2021 with another great verse on Pooh Shiesty’s “Back In Blood.”
If any duo could break the mediocre streak of collaborative tapes — it should be them. Unfortunately, their latest album, The Voice Of The Heroes, is another unspectacularly solid joining of forces.
This isn’t for lack of trying. They’re both locked in; Baby’s rapid tommy gun melodic flow matches with Durk’s versatile emotive crooning. They weave in and out of each other’s verses seamlessly, like Floyd Mayweather dodging right hooks and Muhammed Ali against the ropes.
The duo takes their rightful victory lap on “2040,” boasting about their star power and proving their longevity as the 808s bounce in unison. The brags range from having earrings that cost more than your house to the simple pleasure of doing donuts in the hood of your city: a now tangible dream that wouldn’t have been considered possible during Baby and Durk’s prison days.
Their natural chemistry continues on “Still Hood,” where Durk plants a visual of sharing rooms with junkies, washing with a bucket and keeping his worn-down air mattress intact with duct tape. Baby, in contrast, doesn’t get into his past circumstances, coming from the perspective of a paranoid street veteran fending off temptations and people trying to pull him back under the mud.
The album drags with its crushing 18-song length, bogged down by too much filler. “Medical” is too overt and lacks the imagery of prior songs to tug at heartstrings. The title track is a weak opener with enough hero references to permanently keep eyes rolled. “Who I Want” lacks the punch instrumentally and lyrically to be remembered, despite having some of Baby’s coolest (“It feel good to tell someone to google you”), and corniest (You can’t pop out and say you the hero/you gotta put on a cape and save the day”), lines of the album.
Subtle touches break up the monotony a bit, like the dramatic violins and repurposing of the preset piano from Baby’s “The Bigger Picture” on “Man of My Word.” Meek Mill and Young Thug drop by with show-stealing verses livening up a mostly melancholic undertaking.
The project offers disposable fun bangers and somber explorations of their pain but doesn’t elevate or illuminate Baby or Durk. It hints at lofty ambitions: an attempt at a seminal artistic statement about their influence, and dually, a victory lap after their recent success.
But Voice Of The Heroes isn’t the grandiose affair it feels like it should be — rather an entertaining novelty.
This Lil Baby x Lil Durk is my fav album in a long time. THE ENERGY & HUNGERRRRR
— CertifiedWhore (@YourMusicWhore) June 4, 2021
The Lil Baby & Lil Durk album had some great songs but was too predictable and repetitive. It could’ve been more with better production & more consistent hooks but instead it’s just going into the category of Background Music Albums.
— King Wow (@WowThatsHipHop) June 5, 2021
Lil Durk effortlessly rinsing Lil Baby on every jam. This is why I made it to 2021.
— DAMN. (@Unreal_Kev) June 5, 2021