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21 Savage Issa Album Slaughter Gang / Epic

Having rapidly earned the reputation of Atlanta’s hardest new rapper, last year 21 Savage teamed up with Metro Boomin for their pitch-perfect nine-track project – Savage Mode. Among his many accolades, Metro has become Future’s most trusted producer – and therefore a chief architect of the curious cultural phenomenon that is depressive turn-up music. The minimal and melancholic sound Metro tailored for Savage Mode cloaked 21’s murmured threats with sad ambience, suggesting pain behind the rapper’s dented shield of toxic masculinity. 

This time, the stakes are higher. The official album status is still a gesture that’s taken seriously in the hip-hop industry, while 21 Savage has become a minor celebrity due to his relationship with Amber Rose and the “Issa” meme (when asked what the cross tattoo on his forehead signifies in a video interview, 21 bluntly replied: “Issa knife”), which has inspired a ‘lifestyle brand’ and a Spotify-created promotional website alongside this album’s title. 

Metro Boomin handles the bulk of Issa Album’s production, and the LP largely sticks to the formula of Savage Mode – albeit with extra musical decoration. The busier the beat, the more 21 Savage’s effortless vocal style is eclipsed, and his foray into RnB with the DJ Mustard-produced FaceTime is a straight up misfire. There are also tracks which see 21 try to force a hook or phrase into your consciousness with sheer repetition, and they don’t always stick. 

Issa Album doesn’t quite improve on a trademark sound, and there’s the nagging feeling that 21 Savage’s classic record is already behind him. But lyrically there are interesting diversions from stone-faced nihilism. 21’s disclaimer that he “ain’t being political” on Nothin New turns to be a red herring before he flings out thoughtful rhymes fit for the wokest MCs (“Civil rights came so they flood the hood with coke/ Breakin’ down my people, tryna kill our faith and hope”) and there’s pleasure to found in the knowledge that, after all his troubles, 21 Savage is embracing the joy of being a successful musician: “Used to jump niggas, now we jumping in a crowd/ Used to make my mama cry, but now I make her proud”.