21 Savage
21 Savage has surprised fans with a spectacular album filled with exciting features and higher-level thinking. (Image via DJBooth)
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21 Savage

On his new album, the 26-year-old finally leaves the gimmicks behind.

In recent years, the 26-year-old Georgia rapper 21 Savage has become one of the most iconic faces of trap music. Savage first gained popularity following his 2016 hit, “X (feat. Future),” off of his collaborative EP, “Savage Mode,” made alongside producer Metro Boomin.

His debut work, “Issa Album,” came out in 2017 and proved to be a well-rounded listen, boasting a variety of moods, production and subject matter. The MC then boosted his following again when he released his unannounced collaboration album, “Without Warning,” with Migos member Offset, and Metro Boomin, which they sprung on fans during Halloween 2017. Combined with masterfully layered instrumentals and features from Travis Scott and Migos’ front-man Quavo, the lyricist duo thrived. Savage also contributed to several tracks on Boomin’s 2018 album, “NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES.”

“i am > i was,” the most recent work from Savage, came at the tail end of 2018, just before Christmas. The theme of the album is based on Savage’s recent campaign for self-evolution, which he has underscored by publicly decrying lavish jewelry and emphasizing his efforts to help organizations involved with teaching financial literacy.

On the album’s introduction, “a lot,” Savage establishes the second half of the album’s theme with his confessions of past regrets and mistakes. The unlisted feature from J. Cole on the latter part of the intro is swift, dense and poetic; it is an unexpected collaboration, but blends nicely with rich vocal samples and kicking bass. Cole’s reputation as one of the more conscientious rappers in modern hip hop also reflects Savage’s theme of higher-level thinking.

The two-track “break da law,” produced by Boomin, is ferocious and reinforces the LOUD overtone of the album, and the beat switch-up the producer employs delivers a roaring bass. The terrific rap anthem is followed by “a&t,” which includes a feature from female rapper Yung Miami, who performs the club song’s hook along with one verse. The bass definitely quakes on this third track, and Miami’s verse is strong, but her chorus is a bit rough with her blunt repetition:

“A– and t——, a– and t—— (Shake that)

A– and t——, he throw money, twenties (Bounce that)

A– and t—— (Ayy), a– and t—— (Shake that)

A– and t—— (Ayy), come get savage with me”

However, the chorus might be the only blemish on an otherwise fantastic output from Savage — he kills it on this track and I’m sure some fans will enjoy the raunchy chorus.

“out for the night,” an upbeat party track that bumps with satisfying bass lines and electric guitar samples, returns to Savage’s tight standard for quality. The artist’s auto-tuned vocals sound terrific, and his second verse is an intriguing narrative about him and a girl finding love after she fell out of a relationship.

Savage seems to have improved as a lyricist, depending less on corny punch-lines and suffocating ad-libs to get him through a verse and more on his writing, placing his own words in center stage. It’s possible the shift is a result of his past observations that many people don’t listen to the stories or details in his lyrics and instead focus exclusively on his sound and energy. By positioning his lyrics as the focal point of his songs, Savage is able to better communicate with his audience, and consequently the young rapper thrives and his music’s experience has grown more profound.

The features on tracks six through eight are all astounding and include performances from some of the highest-trending rappers of the year. For instance, “all my friends” is headed by Post Malone and acts as the sequel to the wildly popular “rockstar (feat. 21 Savage),” which was recently nominated for the Grammy’s record of the year. Although Savage might play second-fiddle to Post on “all my friends,” he dominates his verses and acts as the perfect host for trap mayhem.

Other notable surprise guests on the latter half of the project are Schoolboy Q and Childish Gambino. Similar to “ASTROWORLD,” which was released earlier in 2018 by trap enthusiast Travis Scott, Savage incorporates a mix of unexpected names along with simply “dope features” that may have been anticipated. He leaves them unmentioned on the track-list, which makes for a constantly surprising experience.

Top 3 Tracks

3. “good day”

This banger is inspired by “It Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube, but only briefly alludes to its predecessor during Savage’s intense chorus. This is a mean song, and the vocal interludes taken from Lord Infamous are terrifying on their own, but they are also looped and distorted in the background of the blood-guzzling instrumental. Honestly, the track has a kind of schizophrenic flavor to it and acts as a pretty convincing horror track. Schoolboy Q’ s feature on the song is also a strength to the track as he dazzles with clever lyrics:

“All of this gang talk, gang talk

Walk with me, red dot on your head turn green

Turn your Twitter fingers to a crime scene”

Project Pat is another guest feature on the track.

2. “can’t leave without it”

The eight-track kicks off with a catchy hook from Gunna, and Savage provides an incredible first verse that runs with a satisfyingly quick cadence. He’s really talking his s—, and it’s a long verse that is well structured and includes several flow switch-ups.

Piano keys and whistling flute samples make for an epic concoction. Gunna whispers his verse, and the effect bleeds smoothly into an appearance from Lil Baby. The two “Drip Harder” rappers trade the spotlight a few times before closing out the resounding track.

1. “pad lock”

This song doesn’t include a feature and puts Savage at center stage for a perplexing rap ballad. The heavily echoed hook is a pleasurable interlude to two well-articulated verses that include vivid glimpses into the artist’s life. The euphoric and deep-cutting beat provides the perfect setting for Savage to share his thoughts.

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