After much anticipation, Atlanta rapper Lil Baby’s and Chicago’s Lil Durk’s collaboration The Voice of the Heroes hit streaming platforms today. Teased in March, the project is a power move from the two acts whose stars rose immeasurably in the past year. Among other successes, last June, Lil Baby found his place in the summer’s uprisings against anti-black racism and policing by releasing “The Bigger Picture,” an earnest protest anthem, to critical and popular acclaim. The song earned two Grammy nominations. In 2020, Lil Durk, a drill veteran of nearly fifteen years, also earned his first Grammy nods for his appearance on Drake’s hit “Laugh Now Cry Later.” Both rappers are especially adept at twisting menacing bars with emotional touches, and on “Rich Off Pain,” the sixteenth song on their 18-track album, they sharply measure the devastation their success is built upon. It’s a perfect culmination of the album’s themes of flexing muscle, surviving pain, and giving hope.
On “Rich Off Pain,” shrouded in trauma, Durk and Baby rap over electric guitars that stretch and whine. The hook, sung by frequent Rolling Stone chartee Rod Wave, adds to the melancholy of the song’s country-inflected backdrop with lyrics like, “whole life left me scarred” and “use my tears to motivate.” Lil Baby’s verse is the more motivated of the pair, seeing him break through hurt with a passion for music, money, and family. “I know it get rough, but you stay tough and keep shit solid,” he advises. Durk’s turn, however, unpacks wounds from his childhood to today. Though he doesn’t mention King Von — his childhood friend, “twin,” and label signee killed in a shooting in Atlanta last November — or any of the people he’s lost by name, he addresses rumors that he is somehow implicated in their deaths. This acknowledgment is unique for Durk, who raps “See, the blogs can’t break me down, see, I’m the voice, I don’t reply” after vehemently denying any involvement.
The song’s central tragedy — that the artists’ ascent in the music world is aided by their stories and lives of poverty and violence — is made even more damning by the recent death of one of the engineers of “Rich Off Pain,” Turn Me Up Josh. Lil Durk announced his close collaborator’s passing with a tweet on May 31, days before the project’s release. Born Joshua Samuel, Turn Me Up Josh also engineered “Laugh Now Cry Later,” Durk’s biggest feature to date. There’s little doubt that heartbreaks will continue to roll into the two rappers’ lives as they navigate the fame and wealth they’ve earned through vivid street storytelling. There’s even less doubt Lil Durk and Lil Baby will continue to dig into this pain for their art. They are building empires atop graves.