Atlanta rapper 21 Savage has been making waves in the music industry recently through a few popular mixtapes and EPs, many of which involve extensive collaboration with producer of the moment Metro Boomin. Based off of a quip from one of his interviews which turned into a meme, Issa Album is his first full-length project, and he continues to deliver more of the same on a larger scale. Not only is Metro Boomin all over the project, but 21 Savage continues to deliver his gritty yet nonchalant flow and his nihilistic and sometimes disturbingly violent lyrics.
When you know about the things 21 Savage has experienced in his life, listening to a rap voice and perspective so unique, desensitized to the things he is saying, is initially compelling. Stretched to a full album’s length, however, his gimmicks begin to wear thin. 21 Savage is one of those artists who is great on feature verses, as he is always a dynamic complement to a song, but lacks many of the tools needed to carry music on his own. There are certainly a few moments on this project that jump out due to 21’s novelty, but for the most part Issa Album is hard to get through.
If there’s one strength to this project, it is the production and the continued excellent work of Metro Boomin. It’s quite incredible how varied he can still make his beats after being instrumental in the popularization of trap music. Opening track “Famous” shows you what you’re going to get with the rest of the album, as Metro delivers a catchy piano-backed trap beat complete with great usage of pitched-up female vocals. I always appreciate integrating the human voice into a beat, but 21’s energy doesn’t come anywhere close to what the track needs.
“Thug Life”, where 21 is at perhaps his lowest level of effort yet, won me over halfway through the track due to Metro’s incredible En Vogue sample. Surprisingly though, one of the best beats comes from 21 Savage himself, on standout “Bank Account”. On this track, it actually sounds like 21 is having a bit of fun with his delivery, his personality coming out more. The hook made me laugh the first time I heard it, and it was one of the only times I was brought out of a state of boredom over the course of the album. “Money Convo” is just as darkly funny.
As strange as it sounds, the sheer bluntness and shock value that 21 instills into his verses can be a positive as well. He fully embraces his role as the ruthless villain of rap music, and when he apathetically threatens violence like he does it every day, it is both striking and believable.
21’s desensitized and disinterested voice really gets grating quickly, and since it gives a lot of his songs this murky, slower quality it begins to put you to sleep. When so much of your music is based around a style of delivery that is intentionally monotoned and deadpan, a lot of potential for personality and variation between songs is lost. I can hardly remember any distinctive aspects of these songs when I look at the tracklist, they all blend together. Perhaps if 21 tried harder to consistently deliver the “wow” moments that show up sporadically on a few of his other tracks , he would be able to carry a full-length project.
His lyrics are another serious detraction from the project, and you pay more attention to them due to his unique voice. For the most part, they are standard lazy rap lyrics about money and the like, even using the same punchline on more than one occasion across different tracks. The album ends with a track appropriately titled “7 Min Freestyle”, and to be honest most of the album sounds like 21 really is coming up with these lines on the spot. Quite a few times, 21 throws in a word that just so happens to rhyme or a commonly used phrase that makes the rest of the line stop making actual sense. You never thought you’d hear a rapper say “Single like a pringle”, did you?
The few times 21 actually tries to innovate go over even worse, such as on the Drake-emulating slow jam “FaceTime”. Seriously now, WHICH guy at Epic Records thought it would be a good idea for 21 to try to sing on a track?! He has so little range, it hardly sounds different from his deadpan rap delivery. 21 is popular because he is so unapologetically himself, and trying to be Drake takes all of this away. Not to mention that they built an entire song concept around the lyric “I’m too drunk to text, so can we FaceTime”.
21 Savage is an engaging presence in the music industry, but he’s going to have to change up the gimmick sooner or later. Metro Boomin’s production frequently succeeds at saving face here, but I really can’t listen to an hour straight of that monotone drone.
Favourite Tracks: Bank Account, Thug Life, Money Convo
Least Favourite Track: FaceTime