Like many – some would say too many – rappers nowadays, 21 Savage’s career didn’t really take off until he became the subject of an internet meme. In an interview with Vlad TV, the interviewer mistakenly called the dagger tattoo on 21’s forehead a cross. “Issa knife,” the rapper corrected him somewhat menacingly, and the rest as they is history. That retort summarizes what 21 is all about: murder, the streets, murder and more murder. In a landscape populated with fake gun-toting teenagers, 21 is the real deal. That raw realism is ever-present on his debut record ‘Issa Album,’ but more often than not that realism is the only thing worth mentioning.
The atmosphere surrounding the record is just as threatening and blatant as the man himself. Dark pianos, creeping bass and eerie synths, the album perfectly encapsulates the lyrical subjects 21 tackles. The mixing, provided by rap’s go-to man Alex Tumay, is fantastic; every effect is heard without one overshadowing the other. It’s a consistent record that has some of the best production Atlanta trap has seen in recent years. While 21 isn’t the most energetic performer, the album works.
21’s monotonous, somewhat dull voice is a double-edged sword. On one hand it highlights the violent lyrics and does them justice, while on the other hand it fails to paint the more ‘family friendly’ lyrics as anything more than half-assed declarations. On “Special,” 21 slugs through the chorus, showing no emotion when the lyrics call for it. “Money Conversations” also lacks vitality at the climax of the track, leaving the listener wanting more than what was provided.
While the album drudges on at times, on its high points you won’t care that most of the songs last longer than they should. It’s a great album to put in the background during your smoke sesh as you slowly nod off. It’s an album that doesn’t command your attention but just enough of it that you recognize its positives. More often than not 21’s lethargy is made up for by the vibrant trap beats Metro Boomin, Southside and even 21 himself provide.
Even though ‘Issa Album’ exposes 21’s limited range as an artist, it’s ok. He knows who he is and proudly showcases it. It’s clear he’s not as talented as his new wave associates. As long as he’s getting money though he doesn’t care. Issa fact.
Issa Album is out now via Slaughter Gang and Epic Records. The full track-listing is as follows…
2. Bank Account
3. Close My Eyes
4. Bad Business
5. Baby Girl
6. Thug Life
8. Nothin New
10. Dead People
11. Money Convo
13. Whole Lot
14. 7 Min Freestyle