Updated: Jul 24
“What Happened To Virgil” by Lil Durk illustrates the pain of losing loved ones and experiencing pain in life. The song serves as a reminder that death and hardships can happen to anyone.
Death is hard, but what’s worse is hearing the news. It doesn’t seem real for the loved one’s family, who watched them grow up and achieve so much, but they’re gone and not returning.
Lil Durk’s seventh studio album “7220” featured one of his most memorable songs: “What Happened To Virgil.” Accompanied by Atlanta-rapper Gunna, they mourn the death of fashion designer Virgil Abloh, who died at age 41 after a two-year private battle with a rare form of cancer, and reflect on pain and hard times they endured.
Still shaken by the loss, the bridge of the song echoes, “Oh my God, what happened to Virgil?” The haunting phrase catches the ear because both artists question how something devastating can happen to a close friend. It’s the type of phrase that sticks with listeners and makes them lie awake at night wondering about their purpose in life and when their time will come.
“For somebody to dedicate time, energy (and) compassion to take their craft, use it as a space to articulate their truth and get down into how someone really made them feel enough to make a song, there's definitely some level of respect for the deceased person's craft,” Award-winning journalist and professor at Clark Atlanta University Christopher Daniel said.
Rather than rapping about their lavish lifestyles, both artists put down their guard to convey personal demons from their childhood to today. Lil Durk raps about losing his brother while they were on bad terms and mourns the death of another, who died in surgery.
“I wish my brother had made it out surgery,” Lil Durk raps. “I be up thinkin’, (it) do be hurtin’ me. If they gon’ catch me, (they) gon’ murder me.”
Gunna talks about how he got to where he is today, overcoming fights growing up and being loyal to his friends.
“From the A, we was taught to be brave,” Gunna raps. “Had to squabble and take a few fades. Stay rock solid, you’ll get through the phase.”
Artists create special songs when they mention personal demons and trauma they faced. It takes the listener to the studio and makes them feel the same pain the musician feels, which makes the listener reflect on similar situations in their lives.
“It takes a lot to pour your soul into (a song) and really grieve on wax,” Daniel said. “Then, to unpack and highlight how you feel and why that (deceased) person really created a space for you to be vulnerable.”
The beat is enticing, hearing slow piano chords played opposed to high-tempo beats. The beat, production and mix follow similar darker songs in hip-hop from artists, such as Rod Wave.
“If it sounds good sonically, you’re going to hear it in the first-split second,” music producer and engineer Easymoneycaleb said. “The chord progression from the piano is like every pain song. When I hear that, it's just like, ‘Nah, turn this off because I don’t want to hear (artists) talk about pain.’ That’s depressing.”
Produced by Grammy-nominated producer Chopsquad DJ, the listener knows they’re in for a different musical experience from the beginning.
“A lot of times when artists make records that are slower, that's their emotion really pouring into the music,” Daniel said. “It gives the listener an opportunity to go step-by-step with the artist to get a good sense of how they're feeling.”
Lil Durk and Gunna’s ability to reveal their scars landed the song on Billboard’s Hot 100 at number 24. Illustrating their pain resonated with listeners and sent a message that even celebrities deal with agony.
“Music gives you space to grieve,” Daniel said. “It gives you an opportunity to appreciate that person a whole lot more based on how they expressed their creativity or used their creativity to impact the world.”
Derrian Carter is a graduate student pursuing a master's degree in sports journalism, who is enrolled in MCO 598 – Opinion Writing in the Digital Age at Arizona State University. Email Derrian at: firstname.lastname@example.org.