Ten years into his career, Lil Durk keeps putting up numbers. The Chicago rapper first broke onto the scene in 2013 from the drill scene in his hometown, before cycling through the Def Jam system and re-igniting his career a number of years later, landing his first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 as a solo artist last year with 7220. But this week, he one-upped himself again: Durk’s new album, Almost Healed (Alamo Records), debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 — behind heavyweights Taylor Swift and Morgan Wallen — and became his fourth straight No. 1 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, moving 125,000 equivalent album units, his best mark of his career and the biggest debut week for a project on the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart this year so far.
But that’s not all — Durk also landed his highest mark as a lead artist on the Hot 100, when his single “All My Life” feat. J. Cole debuted at No. 2 on the chart, matching the highest mark for each artist (Durk previously hit No. 2 as a featured artist on Drake’s “Laugh Now, Cry Later”) amid 15 songs he landed on the Hot 100 this week. It’s a high-water mark for Durk’s career in a number of ways — and the success helps his manager, Grade A Productions partner Peter Jideonwo, earn the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.
Here, Jideonwo, who started working with Durk ahead of this album, talks about the work that went into making this a success, helping push Durk’s career forward after a decade in the game and the state of hip-hop in a year dominated by country, R&B and Latin music on the charts.
“We are sometimes too focused on the music and not everything else around it,” he says, eyes to the future. “Durk can be bigger than what we have just accomplished.”
This Week, Lil Durk’s Almost Healed debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 with 125,000 equivalent album units, the biggest week of his career as a solo act. What key decisions did you make to help make that happen?
Picking the right single. Making sure all the creatives were on point, picking the right directors, photographers, interviews as well as directing videos. Making sure features were completed. Introducing Durk to Dr. Luke, who helped create “All My Life.” “All My Life” was the first record me and Durk did together and “Stand By Me” was the second. Visiting all the DSPs ahead of time before the album came out. Creating outside-the-box marketing strategies to push the narrative of a new and better Durk.
The album was set up by “All My Life” feat. J. Cole, which matched Durk’s all-time high on the Hot 100 when it debuted at No. 2. What did you do to help that song cut through immediately and debut so high?
The song was created by Durk, Luke and J. Cole. The first session I ever did for Durk was putting that record together. Durk and Cole had a relationship, but I had to follow up for over five weeks to get the verse from J. Cole. The video was shot by my production company and produced by me. Setting up Durk’s scholarship fund with Howard [University], meeting the Mayor [of Chicago] and doing positive things in the community, was what we had to do to make sure the record connected properly.
Almost Healed’s first week is also the largest debut week for a project on the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart in 2023. In a year where the top of the charts have been dominated by country, R&B and Latin music, is it tougher to break through with a hip-hop album, or do you just see these things as going in cycles?
Yes I think so; hip-hop is dying, unfortunately. I say so because we have lost Juice [WRLD], X[XXTentacion], Mac Miller, [Young] Thug to jail, careers like Boston Richey and Gunna tainted by snitching accusations. Our industry in is a self-inflicted turmoil that I do not see reversing anytime soon. We don’t have a stronghold of artists anymore and there is no togetherness. We are also dealing with over-saturation and not enough love shown to our currently-established artists. The only way to fix it is to reduce the amount of people making this music and for our current artists to think outside the box to create new sounds. Everyone makes the same music and the same topics — cars, money, clothes, girls — and that’s not going to take us far anymore. Especially when streamers like Adin Ross and Kai Cenat are pulling hundreds of thousands of kids for hours. They don’t have time to listen to new music, so if you are going to release music it needs to be undeniable or it will not sell.
Durk is now 10 years into his career, and still setting high-water marks in terms of first-week numbers and chart positions. How do you continue pushing his career forward in an era when so much is focused on the next new thing?
We are going to focus on pushing his sound to the next level. I am also focused on making him a household brand, bigger than music. We are sometimes too focused on the music and not everything else around it. Durk can be bigger than what we have just accomplished. Putting out this classic album was very tedious but we are ready to get into tech, gaming, sports, movies: all around new challenges which he hasn’t done yet. We are almost healed.
You’ve been a manager and a label executive in your career. How do you balance the expectations and demands from both?
The easiest way to put it is that I dedicate my life to my clients. I only touch what I love. I am answering these questions on my birthday instead of chilling. We are still working on new things every day, which excites me. I have also been lucky to mostly only work with artists who are signed to me; that has also made my life easy. The music industry is very difficult and the most important thing is to stay ahead of the curve.
How else are you guys planning on continuing to push this Durk project forward?
We are going to keep releasing new music videos. We have an arena tour coming up where we will be performing new records from the album. We are going to put out some new versions of the records, maybe we will get to hear the Kanye West mixes that Durk spoke about in an interview.
Previous Executive of the Week: Austin Neal of The Neal Agency
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