A Portrait of Chicago Rapper ‘Lil Durk’

Challenging Durk Banks to be “part of the cure”, a Chicago trial judge ordered the rapper to do 50 hours of community service, using his celebrity status, for anti-violence causes at Cure Violence at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Banks pled guilty to gun possession charges and received probation.

Cure Violence approaches violence in an entirely new way: as a disease that can be stopped using the same health strategies used to successfully fight cholera and AIDS. The Cure Violence approach has been proven to reduce shootings and killings by as much as 50% in the neighborhoods where it is implemented.

After finishing his court-ordered community service, Banks sat down for a personal interview with Cure Violence Director of Communications, Kathy Buettner.  The following is an excerpt from the interview:

Q: Who is ‘Lil Durk’, the young man?
A: My real name is Durk Banks. I was raised on the South Side of Chicago near Englewood; my daddy was locked down since I was 7 months old. I got a momma who worked real hard to take care of my brother, my two sisters and me, but I got no fatherly guidance. I started gang-banging and dropped out of Paul Robison High School in the 10th grade. I went to jail at 17 on a gun possession charge, and my first son was born.

Q: What’s your fondest childhood memory?
A: Block parties in my neighborhood. We had basketball tournaments, football games, barbecues. I played on the high school basketball team before I dropped out. The biggest thing I remember about those block parties was that there was no violence. The city don’t have those block parties no more because of the violence. I also was part of the Jesse White Tumblers.

Q: What made you decide to try rapping?
A: I was kind of lost and looked up to rappers like Bones, Thug, Tupac, JayZ and Lil Wayne. I always rapped, but I tried a video/song on YouTube when I was 14 or 15 and the response was great. I caught street awareness doin a song with my homie ‘Lil Reese and that’s when I realized rapping could take me somewhere. The doors to the music industry in Chicago opened. My first public appearance was at Club Adriana’s in Chicago in 2011. My brother and my friend Chino stepped up, showed me guidance and are now my managers.

Q: What do you say to those who say rap music is a major cause of violence?
A: I grew up in Englewood – violence is part of everyone’s daily life in Englewood. If you’re not out here with me, you can’t possibly understand. I rap about the violence I see, and I speak the truth. The media and police think that rap is the cause of violence, and that’s not true.

Q: How has your music changed your life?
A: It’s played an important role. It’s stopped me from being on the street, and it’s helped me make money and provide for my 3 kids. I don’t want them to see the violence I grew up with. I go to the studio every day for hours, and I like making money much more than being locked up. I write all my own verses, and when I’m writing, I’m in my own lane. I write some verses in 30 minutes and then I figure out what beat I want after listening to a batch of beats at the studio. Without music, I don’t know where I would be.

Q: What’s it like to be a successful rapper from Chicago?
A: In rap, you stand for your city, and you stand on your own two feet. I came up listening to rappers like Bump J, and they gave me the motivation to start rapping. We the same people, ain’t no difference. We got different minds, but I got my head right.

Q: What’s your message to your over 1 million followers on social media?
A: Some people gang-bang, some people sell drugs. Don’t go on the streets and do dumb stuff. Get your head alright and go to the next person and tell them, “don’t do it.” Stick to doing positive things……have a strong mind, they will try and knock you down. I listen to the kids on twitter and Instagram. I was in the same predicament, but decided to do better. I got my head right now – I ain’t perfect, but I’m trying to do better.

Q: How have you changed since you began rapping?
A: I am dedicated to my music. It has changed my life. I plan to stick to it, and it definitely opens doors. I was shy when I first started, and I stopped being shy and communicate better. I relate to people better, and I’m more fluent in my rap now than when I first started.

Q: Is there anything you care to share that you’ve learned through your association with Cure Violence?
A: Everything don’t have to lead to violence. People think it’s fun and games on the streets, but I’ve seen how families feel after a shooting or killing. It’s really sad.
I got a new mentor now, Cobe Williams. He’s on staff at Cure Violence and was in the movie “The Interrupters”. He tryin to help me make better choices and will set up time for me to talk with kids and youth when I travel. Cobe says I can make a difference and I can help kids. And that makes me feel good.