I’m one of the biggest fans of Atlanta underground legend, Key!. Anybody who knows me personally could tell you the majority of songs I played in 2014 and 2015 mainly consisted of Key! or Future. So after hearing Key! namedrop 21 Savage several times, I decided to checkout the latter’s debut mixtape, The Slaughter Tape the day it was released in 2015. For the most part, I wasn’t impressed. The project housed some hidden gems such as “Slaughter Ya Daughter,” but I don’t think I’ve resisted it as a whole since I first listened to it. So aside from a couple features and loose tracks, 21 Savage was largely a skipped artist for me until I heard Savage Mode‘s lead single, “X.” I chalked up the single’s quality to Metro Boomin’s ability to make any artist sound good over his production as well as Future killing his feature which is routine. Savage Mode as a whole couldn’t be labeled as fluke, though.
I wholeheartedly expected Issa Album to sound like a carbon copy of Savage Mode, which would’ve been perfectly acceptable. 21 wouldn’t step out of his comfort zone and reap the rewards of his familiar, but successful debut album. As the saying goes: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Fortunately for us all, 21 didn’t share my sentiments. Issa Album isn’t anything groundbreaking for hip-hop, but it’s certainly just as enjoyable as your favorite 2017 releases.
The album opens with the Metro Boomin and Zaytoven-produced “Famous” that consists of some piano keys that are worthy of tear-shedding and just like that, listeners are riding shotgun next to 21 as he vents about his current life dealings (Drake is so proud). About a minute and thirty seconds in, 21 Savage begins harmonizing and it certainly isn’t graceful, but he makes it work. “Famous” is the album opener and it already displays 21’s growth as an artist.
One song that I’m sure all listeners will enjoy is the ode to Tupac, “Thug Life.” The production behind 21’s vocals is up there with Metro Boomin’s best (it’s time start mentioning him among the greatest producers in hip-hop’s history), which in turn makes 21 Savage sound that much more convincing. Lines such as “And I slept with rats and roaches/ That’s why I don’t smoke no roaches” aren’t impressing anybody, but the attempted flow-switching like “Thirty-round hanging out the big glock/ Nigga, no six shots/ Shooting ’til the clip stops” can make even the rap purists smile (probably not, but at least he tried). The third verse of “Thug Life” is definitely the track’s highlight, though. Here, 21 Savage references Denzel Washington in Training Day and speaks on the transition from gangbanging to being a rap-star stating “Used to jump niggas, now we jumping in the crowd/ Used to make my momma cry, but now I make her smile.”
As a man who’s in a relationship, I’m one of the fans who enjoy “FaceTime,” easily the most divisive track on Issa Album. Drunken rants about his emotions toward a woman, their potential plans together and last, but certainly not least, her significant other cheating (Drake is so proud, the sequel) aren’t what fans have come to expect from 21 Savage, but that’s what makes this album must-listen. Several songs later and 21 Savage’s newfound alter ego, 21 Simping makes his way back on “Special.” Surprisingly, 21 Simping flips Lauryn Hill’s third verse from “Ex-Factor” into the bridge for “Special” and while it’s not quite as heartfelt, it’s just as catchy as the original.
Even with his growth, die-hard 21 Savage stans still shouldn’t fret. For every “FaceTime,” there’s twice the “ignant” talk like the sure-to-be single, “Bank Account” and the certified car-banger, “Money Convo.” Issa Album is a welcomed project to today’s rap scene due to 21’s ability to blend the normality of the genre’s current landscape as well as showing strides of artistic progression. Will this album be mentioned in the same sentence as hip-hop’s greatest projects? No, but it’s an album that will be worth revisiting in months or maybe even years.