It’s no exaggeration to say that Lil Durk has been constantly healing from trauma for over a decade. As a member of drill’s first wave in Chicago in the early 2010s, Durk’s music has always been rife with amped-up tales that rumble with intense gun-fueled action and the physical and emotional fallout that follows it. But the sheer amount of hardship and loss he’s suffered, like many from his background, is staggering—to the point where every new project is both a victory lap and a pressure-release valve. Life has not let up on this dude: He’s one of the most popular and successful rappers in the world but the PTSD from a constant drip of lost family and friends keeps him on edge.
Up until Almost Healed, his eighth solo album, the therapeutic benefits of his music have mostly been subtextual, relegated to his tone and the sheer weight of his stories. At least it’s never been as heavy-handed as it is on the opening skit “Therapy Session,” where Alicia Keys stiltedly asks him about the deaths of King Von, his brother DThang, and his ongoing beefs with YoungBoy Never Broke Again and Gunna with the airy chirp of an overeager guidance counselor. It’s a mawkish start to an otherwise engaging and scattershot album.
Whether he’s mean-mugging his way through the trenches or opening up about his broken heart, Durk brings his words to life like a comic book splash page. The proper opening track “Pelle Coat” foregrounds those talents with four minutes of traumatic memories, visceral action, and YouTubers on his shit list. Scenarios tumble out over Chopsquad DJ’s slight keyboards and hi-hats: snitches, bodies in the street, the guilt over the deaths of Von and his cousin Nuski, Durk’s mother suggesting he decamp to Detroit. But one observation near the beginning of the third verse is a one-two knock-out: “I send money to funerals/Even though they goin’ to hell for all them niggas they killed/You know I'm part of my brother 'nem forever ever, I'm goin’ to hell.” The trail of death he’s seen is harrowing enough, but Durk acknowledging that he’s essentially damned himself beyond salvation is chilling. It’s a heartbreaking moment in a discography full of them, the kind that only comes from the darkest forms of experience.
“Pelle Coat” is a hell of an opener, hitting heights that Almost Healed doesn’t reach again for the rest of its runtime. Every song doesn’t need to rip the listener’s heart out, but the rest of the album jumps between these personal revelations, sappy crossover treacle, and standard drill-and-pain tracks. Lead single “All My Life” walks a tightrope between the earnest sociopolitical pleas of Lil Baby’s “The Bigger Picture” and the goodhearted PSA hogwash of Logic’s “1-800-273-8255,” complete with a choir of children singing its hook.
That balance is upset a handful of times, most notably on “Stand by Me,” Durk’s second collaboration with country singer (and “reformed” n-word user) Morgan Wallen. Their dedications to faceless love interests are sapped of all the detail, urgency, and personality that drives Durk’s best songs. Both “All My Life” and “Stand by Me” are clear shots at crossover hits, but at least the former gives us some powerful words from guest J. Cole about the dead rapper media industrial complex to sink our teeth into.
The rest of Almost Healed is a grab bag of middling to pretty good Durk cuts from across the spectrum. The pretty good: Durk and New Orleans upstart Rob49 doing back-and-forths over a vicious LilJuMadeDaBeat production on “Same Side” and colorful threats to opposition on “300 Urus.” The middling: run-of-the-mill collaborations with 21 Savage on “War Bout It” and Chief Wuk on “Big Dawg.” “Cross the Globe” boasts a feature from the late Juice WRLD, and his somber and paranoid verse (“I got the juice, feel like 2Pac/They tryna kill me in the black Beamer like 2Pac”) doesn’t match Durk yelling about going deep into some young lady’s guts while screaming “Free Thug!” There’s no humor or fun parallel here—it’s a jarring distraction.
That clash of sound and content points to the big problem with Almost Healed: It never knows what kind of experience it wants to deliver. Its therapy-speak intro and gauze-wrapped cover art suggest this is Durk’s stab at a legit concept album, wrestling with his demons like a more violent take on Kendrick Lamar’s Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. But about halfway through, it plays out just like any other Durk album, with all the sadness, anger, flashiness, and white-knuckle intensity you’d expect. This could all be chalked up to portraying the many sides of Durk, but there’s little narrative thread guiding that thought, and so it feels like a thin conceptual veil placed over things we’ve seen and heard before. There’s little differentiating this from 2020’s The Voice or 2022’s 7220 and it lacks the razor-sharp focus that made Just Cause Ya’ll Waited 2, a brutal and affecting listen. Durk’s presence is strong and his endurance is inspiring, but his intentions are as muddied as ever.