Friends and acquaintances have been trying to sway my opinion on 21 Savage for months. Upon the release of his popular Savage Mode mixtape last year, his name caught fire. Fans, critics, and posers came out the woodwork to chime in on the new gangsta icon. At first, I felt the need to overly criticize 21’s music in attempt to silence the hype. In my opinion, 21 Savage’s appeal is a reflection of his street authenticity. His name says it all. However, Metro Boomin’s contributions to Savage Mode made it a memorable project. 21’s delivery is easy to follow along with but doesn’t offer much in terms of substance. His bars are suspect-at-best most of the time. I mentioned in my review of Migos’ CULTURE that trap rappers are not pure lyricists. Conversely, I expect entertaining bars in place of stimulating ones. Is that so much to ask?
My main issue with 21 Savage is his tone. It rarely diversifies, making tracks spill into each other. Because of this vocal stagnation, it becomes difficult separating verse from hook. Which, in turn, leads to boring ass music. I almost hope 21 never reads this because he is, by all means, about that life. I want to like the guy. And, in general, I do. Watching Noisey’s Atlanta documentary made me admire his rise to the top. Unfortunately, though, I still have reservations about his music. To me, 21 fills a void fans were searching for: a cold-blooded gangsta rapper that doesn’t sing. In that sense, 21 is great. You won’t find another rapper this young be this true-to-form. Future, Migos, Kodak Black, they all have a melodic element. It’s not their best trait, but they make sure to include a heavy dose of melody on all their projects.
In 21’s case, he doesn’t need melody to make a hit. Going into this debut, I expected his viral status to affect what styles he experimented with. And it has, but not as horribly as I thought. The midpoint of Issa Album, “FaceTime,” is actually quite nifty. He abandons his tough-guy persona for a moment to give his girl a chunk of his time. I enjoyed this song way more than I imagined I ever would. However, I felt like the auto-tuned softness should have stopped there. “Special” is one of the worst tracks of 2017. It sounds clunky and hypocritical considering all of the hoe-bashing and homophobic slurs heard here. I’m not sure there is a 21 Savage fan out there asking for a song like it. Luckily, those were the only two of their kind on this album. 21 did manage to surprise me, though.
Two tracks I found impactful were “Thug Life” and “Nothin New”. The soul flip on “Thug Life” re-energized the album’s instrumental palette. Among a plethora of bellowing bass and jack-rabbit snares, a soul beat base adds a waviness Issa needed. It is an essential 21 Savage song. This applies to “Nothin New” as well. Compared to his past hits, “Nothin New” is light years ahead in regards to lyrical substance. 21 finally matches his producers’ intensity. Metro Boomin returns in addition to Atlanta heavyweights Southside and Zaytoven, New York’s Pi’erre Bourne, and the Bay’s DJ Mustard. 21 showcases his lesser known talent as the sole producer of “Bank Account,” my personal fave. Young Savage works best atop eerie, atmospheric production. Here, he follows that path to a certain degree. Nevertheless, as a whole, Issa Album is too redundant and melancholy to reverse any of my ongoing criticisms.