21’s latest highlights the sophisticated savage’s evolution.
The sophomore studio album is truly the make or break effort, as it can either continue the momentum from a strong debut, change listeners’ opinions for the better if the debut isn’t well-received, or change opinions for worse if it doesn’t measure up. For an artist like 21 Savage whose impact primarily comes from his features, his projects serve more as a reminder of what he can do on his own. For better or worse. Issa Album showed he can still churn out commercial bangers, and i am > i was is a step in the right direction lyrically, after our one listen.
Rapping-wise, this is the 26-year-old at his best. Clever flows, complex pockets, funny punchlines and references are commonplace for the Saint Laurent Don, and he gets introspective here on “letter 2 my momma” which is a nice change. He stands next to J. Cole, Childish Gambino, Offset, Gunna and Lil Baby on some of the best album cuts, and though they all add some memorable verses nothing fully takes the spotlight from Savage. He does his thing.
This album shouldn’t have been necessary for people to recognize his pen game, but now people should have no reason to doubt. What does become more obvious with this album is 21’s inconsistency in making hooks. Tracks like “ball w/o you” and “gun smoke” are painfully repetitive and lacking despite having arguably the best beats on the album. Seeing tracks like “10 Freaky Girls” from Metro Boomin’s Not All Heroes Wear Capes, “X” featuring Future and “No Heart” make you wonder where the choral inspiration was on this album. He can be very catchy and it works, but some of the efforts here felt like that was too much of the focus.
Metro, Southside, Wheezy, and TM88 add some exceptional production as always, and 21 brings back the whisper from “Don’t Come Out The House” on “asmr.” The album is full of gimmicks and solid verses but there’s still some room for improvement when it comes to choruses and making songs feel complete. What isn’t to be doubted or debated is that 21 is a better rapper than he’s given credit for, and he will likely only keep proving that on other’s work. You can either recognize it now or get called late to the bandwagon when he really starts to receive the recognition he deserves. Stream i am > i was below.