21 Savage is real. He's a savage. He likes knives, guns, fuckin'... he likes gold. Honourable mentions: porches, New York, independence...pretty standard fare. Every song on Savage Mode—his collaborative mixtape with Metro Boomin and his introduction into the rap mainstream—inevitably contains multiple references to the artists proclaimed savagery. Particular to 21 Savage is his stoic reflection on a bleak upbringing. He raps with unflinching realism about a hard life hard fought, so the debauchery is well-deserved here. The emotional constant throughout Savage Mode is 21 Savage confronting the void and rejecting it with a sneer. The void presented on Savage Mode is one of few outcomes—a fast life, a fast death; might as well enjoy it, right? And the more we understand the negative health outcomes of growing up in a violent, impoverished area, the more the PTSD-like symptoms described by rappers stand out as stark reminders of a stratifying society. Savage acts like a caricature of the quintessential teen-corrupted-by-video-games-and-pornography. His hardened, unemotional delivery describes shocking acts of sex and violence, coupled with a zero-sum mentality that adds remorseless weight to his boasts.
While the rhymes of 21 and his ilk may be simplistic, the beats are certainly the opposite. As immaculate as ever, Metro Boomin is the superstar producer du jour and curator of this affair. This is a good thing. Super producers tend to dictate what all the songs on the radio sound like, and the recent hits Metro has flexed are deftly intricate, and can be as sinister as they are up lifting. ‘X Bitch’ juxtaposes a pastoral flute harmony against a stock Casio and an 8-bit motif that recalls mid 00's trap bangers. His tag "if young Metro don't trust you..." is arguably the least annoying thing one could hear before a beat drops, and the phrase has become so ubiquitous, both Democratic candidates for US president were asked if "Young Metro trusted them." Ever since ‘Father Stretch My Hands’ boomed over Madison Square Gardens, that quip has become a stamp of quality like the Versace head—when you hear it, you know the room is about to lose its collective mind.
The current battle within the rap industry, of which 21 Savage could be considered a “respected” chess piece, primarily concerns form. In one corner are the traditionalists, rappers who have a story to tell. Their narrative began in the 80s with a series of antagonistic decisions by the US government that disproportionately affected Black males, and since then has evolved to touch on various veins of inequality in the United States. In the other corner are a new wave of obscenely popular youngsters whom critics and old heads aren't quite sure what to make of. Their rhymes are simplistic and repetitive, and often impossible to decipher. Championed by Thugger, Yachty, Uzi Vert, and Savage himself, the subject matter can be debauched and hedonistic or emphatically candid on mental health—in either case, the nihilism is laid on thick. It is the sound of a generation that has incredible potential, intelligence, and self-awareness, but suffers from a chronic lack of opportunity and access to mobility. Regardless of which side of the battlefield you stand on, it’s hard to deny that Savage and Metro have penetrated the rap game with a focused, individual work, that resonates as well in dimly lit loner lounges as it does in a smoked-out club.
By Ross Devlin | Loose Lips