Has 21 Savage matured into 22 Savage?
When Atlanta rapper, 21 Savage first broke onto the mainstream hip-hop scene, he faced a lot of backlash from rap traditionalists for his lowkey, almost monotonous delivery and surface level lyrics.
Many compared his mumble rap style to contemporaries like, Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert and Kodak Black. Unlike these artists though, Savage inhabited a niche that focused on a much darker more murderous sound.
Since his last project, Issa Album, Savage has surprisingly matured his public image after stating he intended to focus his newfound financial gains into more productive outlets that can return on investment. He even went as far as to give financial advice on NBC News of all places. I hoped this maturity would appear on his next release and fortunately it does on his latest project, i am > i was.
The allusion to self improvement through the title is consistently evident through Savages’ musical efforts. 21 Savage is clearly aiming to improve his sound through better features, more versatile performances and more meticulous instrumentals. Savage maintains his typical delivery, but he clearly has more passion in his voice.
None of the featured guests are publicly displayed in the song titles which is surprising considering the massive star power Savage brings to the table including the likes of, J. Cole, Schoolboy Q, Childish Gambino and former collaborator, Post Malone.
In the very first seconds of the recording, Savage shows his listeners that this album is going to be unlike anything he has released before. The opener, “a lot” features this vintage soul instrumental that sounds something off of an MF Doom, or even something off of Earl Sweatshirt’s “Some Rap Songs.” Although not nearly as avant garde. J. Cole caps the track off with a speedy subdued flow and even mentions Tekashi 6ix9ine in a couple bars. The song is nearly five minutes, but it does not feel that long.
“out for the night” has a cool blues inspired guitar instrumental, but the chorus is so obnoxiously repetitive it negates the decent verses leading up to them. Savage’s producers even added a pinch of autotune on his voice to hammer home the obnoxious factor.
Post Malone has a solid hook on “all my friends.” The instrumental is clearly catered more towards Malone’s sound with the warped swirling twangy guitar and the southern twang in Malone’s voice, but Savage manages to hold his own.
“can’t leave without it” is a highlight in terms of Savage’s performance, but Lil Baby and Gunna continue to sound more and more like –grade Young Thugs.
“asmr” feels like a pretty standard 21 Savage track, until the backend where he whisper raps paying homage to the song’s title. It is ironic though, how autonomous sensory meridian response the song gives, as “asmr” is intended to be relaxing to the listener, but Savage’s delivery is still abrasive even in a softer format.
“ball w/o you” started out as a decent moody R&B song discussing unloyalty. The instrumental is starry and pleasant to listen to. The song’s biggest flaw comes in at the bridge which has some of the worst use of autotune I’ve heard. Savage sounds like a fish out of water with an coordinated raspy tone.
Childish Gambino has a couple of witty quotables on “monster” like, “If you rappin’ for money, you silly. This shit ain’t a milli’, this shit is a hundred. The industry savage and most of you average.” Lyrically, Savage continues to reminisce on his setbacks and what he had to do to overcome his struggles. The group children backup vocals on the chorus add an extra level of eeriness.
Savage has struggled in the past with expressing his softer side on songs, but on “letter 2 my momma,” his frank delivery actually works in the context. It feels like a genuinely touching tribute to his mother, even with his fairly monotone delivery.
The album’s closer, “4L” has Savage performing what I feel is one of his most aggressive bloodcurdling performances yet. His voice is apathetic, but his pronunciation feels so much more cutting and impactful.
Songs like, “break da law,” “1.5,” and “good day” are all pretty run-of-the-mill tracks for Savage’s style, but even they are far superior to some of the more underwhelming cuts from his previous releases.
“i am > i was” is Savage’s most well-groomed project to date. Despite critics viewing him as a one trick pony whose time in the spotlight was quickly waning, Savage has shown himself to have much more longevity and artistic merit than previously appreciated. Hopefully this is a sign for even more mature or even conceptual albums in the future.
Best songs: “all my friends,” “a lot,” “break da law,” “letter 2 my momma,” “monster,” “4L,” “good day” and “ball w/o you”
Worst song: “out for the night”