What’s changed for 21 Savage since the release of his debut commercial project, Issa Album? Well, as he puts it on the opening track of I Am > I Was, “a lot.” For one thing, Savage has become a much more technically impressive rapper, stringing together his frightening taunts with a newfound cunning and improved wordplay, lending a prototypical song like “Gun Smoke” an especially menacing delinquency: “Started with a deuce deuce, turned it to a .38 / Then I got a Glock 9, turned it to an AK.” The track “Good Day” samples Three 6 Mafia and interpolates Ice Cube, laying the sonic foundation for a terrifying, modern vision of the trapper lifestyle (“Murder with the .45, murder with the nine / murdering that bitch, put that dick up in her spine”) and throughout I Am > I Was, Savage relies less on his deadpan delivery than he has on past projects, opening up his vocal range and proving as much adept at melodic headache ballads (“Ball W/O U”) as he is whispered bangers (“ASMR”).
Maybe the biggest revelation here, though, is that the Slaughter King is growing up: he pens a song to his momma, the only person he displays much admiration for, and has features from ‘serious’ and ‘conscious’ rappers like J. Cole and Childish Gambino — both of whom actually fit here, especially (and shockingly) Cole, who, on “A Lot,” has a verse about liars and cheats in the rap game that’s uncharacteristically sharp. But Savage also gets his younger cousin, Yung Nudy, on closing track “4L”, where the two indulge in one more round of depravity. The message here is clear — it’s right there in the title. 21 proves that he’s better than he once was, while at the same time still proudly proclaiming that he’s “a young trap ass, strapped-ass, no time for the yap ass / Get a n***a clapped ass, Zone 6, ride around with it in my lap ass / Leave your man’s brain in your motherfuckin’ lap ass n***a.”
Published as part of What Would Meek Do? | Issue 6