“What does the cross on your forehead signify?”
With those two words, Atlanta rapper 21 Savage launched a cultural and social media phenomenon. After being named of member of XXL’s 2016 Freshman Class, Savage quickly ascended as one of Hip-Hop’s rising new talents. Now almost a year to the day of Savage Mode, his smash mixtape collaboration with producer Metro Boomin, 21 Savage is back with a celebrity bae and his debut album ISSA.
Known for his low register, monotone snarl, 21’s deadpan flow tells rags to riches story filled with sex, violence, drugs and money. The American Dream.
ISSA opens up with the Metro Boomin and Zaytoven produced “Famous”, a track about Savage’s dark past and his rise to fame. 21 opens up about his loyalty to those he grew up with, providing for and making his kids happy, and his battle between the street life and the rap life. An internal battle he faces throughout the duration of this album as he raps on the hook
“I’m a street nigga but I’m famous. I’m a rapper, nigga and I’m gangbangin”
An early standout on ISSA is the self-produced “Bank Account”. Sampling Coleridge-Taylor Pexrkinon’s song “Flashbulbs”, the album’s second track finds Savage boasting about the amount of millions in his account.
The bass on the next three songs are all guaranteed to knock in your speaker system of choice. “Close My Eyes”, “Bad Business”, and “Baby Girl” all feature the 24 year old talking his shit over production from Pi’erre Bourne & Southside,some of the hottest producers in the game.
ISSA gets a nice change of pace with the tracks “Thug Life” and “Facetime”. On “Thug Life”, 21 tells us how he was kicked out of middle school, chose the streets over sports, and explains how he had to hide drugs in his grandma’s house from his family. We see a hint of Savage’s romantic side on “Facetime”. Here he departs from trapping to display his feelings for a woman. Now in a highly publicized relationship with Amber Rose, one can only assume this song is dedicated to her. On both tracks, 21 Savage gives his rapping whisper a break for autotuned sung melodies.
ISSA shines when Savage dives deep into his dark past to give a highlighted view of the popularized trap lifestyle. On “Numb” 21 raps about having to use money to numb the pain of his upbringing. In a time where drug use and street life is glorified in music, Savage talks about the real consequences and side effects of those actions. He perfectly illustrates this on “Close My Eyes” declaring
“I can’t go to sleep, I swear I’m way too high dog. I see dead bodies when I close my eyes dog”
My favorite track on ISSA is the politically charged “Nothing New”. Ziggy and Metro team up again to deliver a simple, dark, moody beat that meshes perfectly with Savage’s pain filled flow. He open ups mocking those who thought he only rapped about murders and pistols before going on to tackle systemic racism, single parent mothers, and the coke epidemic. It was refreshing to see one of Hip-Hop’s newer generation stars execute this type of track.
The album begins to wrap up with the money centered “Dead People” and “Money Convo”. “Special” once again displays the rapper’s softer side before he teams up with Young Thug on “Whole Lot” to discuss how he doesn’t need to be friendly with other rappers. ISSA concludes with “7 Minute Freestyle”. Back in savage mode, 21 revisits his criminal past of “robbing, ski masking and blasting.”
21 Savage delivers a mature, well thought out debut album. He clearly stands out from his “mumble rap” peers as ISSA provides a flashback to Hip-Hop’s early gangsta rap days. When he raps,
“Goyard duffle yeah yeah, Got a Draco in it yeah yeah”
He reminds us that although he’s a rapper, he’s still bout dat life. 21.