DJ Reese knew Lil Durk’s father before he knew Durk and has been in the young rapper’s life for the vast majority of his professional rapping career. The Chicago natives have toured the country together, broken hit records and staged Durk’s proposal to India Royale during his biggest show in their hometown.
“For that part, we did put that together. We definitely had to put that together to make that moment right because we wanted the music to play right. We wanted to have the right song playing. We prepared that ourselves,” DJ Reese tells REVOLT.
How did you first link with Lil Durk?
We’re from Chicago and kind of from the same neighborhood. I live a few blocks from where he grew up at. I met his old manager, who was also my manager. I was pushing records in the club … deejaying, so I was always up on the new music. That’s how we connected. This was in 2012 when we connected. I was with him from 2012 to 2015, and then I took off from there. Tink, the first artist that I was with, got signed and got busy in 2015. So, I couldn’t do both at the same time and then in 2018, I got a call to come back.
You’ve been part of Durk’s career for a decade, off and on. What do you remember about your first show together?
I want to say our first show was in Milwaukee. Our first shows were just small clubs with 200-500 people. They were receptive. They were responding to him in the early days when he had the short hair — before he had the braids. It was great, man.
Was their anything you and Durk had to iron out over the years to develop your onstage chemistry?
I kind of fed off of him in the beginning. Early on, Durk wouldn’t be all over the stage. He would stay in one spot, but he’s really active now. He would also cut off records before it got to the point where we were gonna cut, so I had to learn that he would do things on the fly. I had to learn his hand gestures and the words he was gonna say that cue me to know what to do. If he said certain things, I’d know what song to play next, which developed over time from knowing him. A lot of that chemistry developed behind the scenes with us hanging out, talking and getting to know each other. That helps instead of waiting until you get on stage.
Is there any show that sticks out as the first really good show you two had?
No show really sticks out because it’s so long ago, but I know we were in Kentucky one time, and it seemed every song was so on point. We went beyond the setlist. They’re calling out records and telling me, ‘Let’s do this’ and ‘Play this.’
When Durk comes over to the DJ booth to chat with you in the middle of a show, what are those conversations about?
It’s different things. He may say, ‘Don’t play whatever song coming up next. Play this, and then I’m gonna say this.’ We come up with stuff right then and there sometimes. Usually, we have a whole setlist, but he may be feeling something different from the crowd and he’ll come over and say, ‘I’m gonna say this, and then I want you to drop it right here, and then we’re gonna do it like that. Then, I’m gonna say this.’ He’ll say it really quick, and then we just make it happen.
How has your role in his live show evolved over the last ten years?
It’s still the same, man. I’ve always been involved in making the setlist. I always do it with management, too, just to see their thoughts. I never really do it all by myself. But, since the beginning, whichever manager he’s ever had, I’ve always sat down with them and been like, ‘Yo, this is what I’m thinking. We should do this and then transition.’ So, they trust me to handle that part. Then, if they have input, we definitely incorporate some things they might want to do. We’ve always been that way. I’ve always been that way with him, helping with the setlist and everything — even with the performers and little things.
Which song of Durk’s would you say helped advance his live show?
The song that I knew catapulted everything was ‘L’s Anthem.’ That was a song he had brought to me in the club the same night he recorded it. I played it in the club twice. He wasn’t even old enough to be in a club. So, we had to ask the manager to let him in the club so he could see their reaction and the manager was like, ‘Okay, I’ll let him in, but after that he gotta leave.’ He was about 19 then. The ‘L’s Anthem’ is what kicked it off for me. I felt like that was a song that kicked it off. But to go from doing 200 people to 10,000-capacity venues, I really can’t pinpoint a record — but I do know in 2018, when I came back, he started to drop those projects like Signed To The Streets 3 and Love Songs 4 The Streets 2.
How has Durk’s setlist evolved over the years?
The song that has stayed the longest is ‘Homebody.’ It’s been in the set since it came out [in 2018]. We play that in our club sets when we do hostings.
How do you and Durk determine which songs stay and which songs are removed from his setlist?
It’s really off the crowd response, and I pay attention to the numbers — especially with the new songs. When the new records come out, I check the numbers, see what the people like and pull it from there. But it’s a feeling you get from the crowd when you’re doing these records. But the stuff from the beginning, from 2012 to 2015, we’re not doing any of those now. We’re doing a couple of the songs from the beginning now on tour because he’s up there for an hour and a half now as opposed to back when we were doing 15, 20-minute sets.
How involved is Durk in his live show?
Durk comes to rehearsal. He has his ideas and things he wants to do. He’ll say, ‘Let’s do it like this.’ If we’re doing something, he has input as well. Last night [April 9 in Los Angeles], he changed the show. He sent over what he thinks should happen, and we made adjustments.
What are some of those adjustments you made on the fly?
Last night, one of the songs didn’t fire off, so Durk and I went back and forth talking until we fixed it. When something happens, you don’t just stand around and look at each other. That’s how people are gonna know something’s wrong. Durk and I picked right up on the dialogue. We just start talking to each other, and he knows in his mind we finna fix it and get back to it.
You’ve been in Durk’s life for the majority of his professional rapping career. How has touring helped you bond?
It’s cool because we come from the same neighborhood. We come from the same things. I knew his father before I knew him. We’re from the same area, man. We come from the same upbringing, just at a different time.
What’s your most memorable show together?
The first time we did Rolling Loud, and it wasn’t daylight out. We used to do Rolling Loud when it was 3 o’clock. The first time we did it and it was nighttime, I said, ‘Okay, this is what’s up.’ It was so many people — as far as you can see. It was just people all the way in the back and front. It was like endless people. He wasn’t the headliner, but he was three people down from the headliner.
What do you feel is the greatest talent you provide during a live set?
My ability to work under pressure, troubleshoot a problem and correct things as I go. All the shows aren’t perfect. We have some mishaps, and people would never know because you have to make those adjustments. So, I just think knowing how to work under pressure like that is my biggest strength.
One of the best shows Durk ever did was 2021 Big Jam in Chicago.
Yeah, that was huge.
I saw he had his kids on stage. I saw Lil Baby came out. What was the preparation for that?
That just happened. The kids were going to be there, but having them on a stage like that just happened. That was natural. Same with Lil Baby. They’re really homies, so it isn’t anything for him to pop out on the show, and then they look like they’ve been doing it forever together.
Did you know Durk was going to propose to India Royale?
For that part, we did put that together. We definitely had to put that together to make that moment right because we wanted the music to play right. We wanted to have the right song playing. We prepared that ourselves.
You spoke on Lil Baby and Durk’s friendship. What was it like being on tour with Baby for the “We Back Outside Tour”?
Did you ever deejay for King Von?
Yeah, I was Von’s DJ when he first started. Von would come out on Durk’s sets, and then we would just always play his song ‘Crazy Story.’ Then ‘Crazy Story’ started going crazy, and he wound up getting booked for shows. So, when Durk wasn’t doing any shows, Von had shows, and I would do Von’s shows. But then Von started to get really busy, and I couldn’t be his and Durk’s DJ, so Von had to get himself a DJ. But I did do some of Von’s beginning shows.
He was so young in the game. As far as performing live, what did you notice he still needed to work on?
He was like any other new artist. He was a little uncomfortable in the beginning. He was standing in one spot, but then Von got used to what was going on and moved around. And then I would just make suggestions to him every now and then, like, ‘Hey, do this. Move, go to this side, engage on that side.’ I just offered those suggestions, and he took it well. He started really adjusting to putting on good shows.
What do you remember about Durk’s first show after Von’s passing in November 2020?
If I could remember, it was just different, for sure, to not have Von there. But, we carried on. I have caught Durk staring at the screen. We have a screen that will be playing while the songs are playing. So, when we play Von’s records, Von will be up on the screen. I’ve caught Durk staring at that screen and getting captivated by Von’s image, but he’ll snap right back into it. He did it last night. He looked at that screen and looked at Von. I know he misses him.