21 Savage – ‘Issa Album’

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Issa Album by 21 Savage (Slaughter Gang/Epic, 2017)

The night before I heard this, a friend described 21 Savage on this album as “romantic.” Cartoon cover aside, I couldn’t imagine a man who claimed to have no heart on one icy, soulless rap record to show soft, warm emotion — or any kind of emotion, for that matter. And he still shows affection with juvenile shallowness, again comparing sex to candy. His hooks overall continue to thrive off of disengaged apathy. Yet he’s also vocal throughout the record to explain he’s deeper than sex, drugs, and violence, and that he is, in fact, a man who can feel.

21 doesn’t expand enough to back up his talk. His best songs here follow his old tricks: hooks about indulgence, repeated until none of it bare much joy. The more the textures of the album resembles the comatose haze of the Metro Boomin’-assisted Savage Mode, the better it sounds. But at least he’s self-aware: there is a song called “Numb”; in another called “Nothin’ New,” he opens with being type-casted as one who “only raps about murders and pistols,” only to try to break away from it.

New inclusion of topic as a gesture to show growth is a reveal of family and his struggles to raise them. It’s a small appearance, though to his credit, so was his mention of autobiography of his middle-school years in “No Heart,” and that still was enough to carve some humanity in him. I side with him through a more familiar territory on him being at too close of a proximity to death and coping with such anxiety as well as grief. He’s rather brief at describing his pill habits than his peers, yet it’s always revealing. And there’s an air of cliche to a 21 Savage song called “Dead People.” It probably doesn’t help its decaying beat recalls the gloom behind the title track to Savage Mode. But it’s a case of an artist doing what he does best.

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