EVER since the much-maligned XXL Freshman class of Summer 2016, it seems that the cover stars of that edition have squirrelled themselves away in order to create music that will quell the thirst from die-hard fans.
At the same time, they’ve also attempted to squash the overriding feeling from many critics that their inclusion and recognition by XXL was unjustified.
This applies none more so than to Atlanta “murder music” rapper 21 Savage, who by his own admission in the XXL interview last year, described his own music as “murderous”.
His debut album Issa (slang for “It’s A”) brings with it a predictable but welcome trap-heavy feel. Right from the outset, the opening track ‘Famous’ sees a familiar combination of hip-hop’s current biggest producer Metro Boomin, and the effervescent bouncy piano strokes of fellow Atlanta producer Zaytoven.
Uptempo compared to 21’s usual dark melodies, it’s similar to ‘Close My Eyes,’ which revisits the acidic undertones of the certified-gold mixtape collaboration by 21 and Metro last summer, Savage Mode.‘
Responsible for the production on seven of the fourteen tracks, the successful formula is repeated here on numerous tracks, embodying the infiltration of an 808-driven trap. Lyrics such as “I see dead bodies when I close my eyes dawg”, underpins the dark corners of 21’s mind.
Trying his hand at producing, second track ‘Bank Account’ is solely produced by 21 himself. He raps, “I got 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 M’s in my bank account”, a simple nod of recognition to his own personal successes, delivered in his trademark melancholy tone that encapsulates many of his hooks.
Despite the lyricism at times carrying a repetitive hollowness, as is the case with many of America’s modern rap releases, the production elevates the record to another level. 808 Mafia affiliate Southside assists on ‘Bad Business’ and ‘Dead People,’ with the latter track giving a mellower feel to proceedings, sounding similar to a beat crafted by London On The Track, who often collaborates with ATL rapper Young Thug.
Wheezy-produced ‘Special’ has that 6 am feel, striking in its dealings with relationships, a topic not associated with 21 in his short career. The same can be said of the DJ Mustard-produced track ‘Facetime,’ an interesting collaboration since the conventions of DJ Mustard’s production does not correlate with the flows 21 provides. The Autotune-soaked track feels slightly adverse to the rest of the album. Off the back of that, ‘Nothin’ New’ and ‘Numb’ revert back to type; haunting production and disturbing lyrics, which is much more in keeping with 21’s synonymity.
Overall, ‘Issa doesn’t carry with it the element of surprise. Whilst certain experimentations are noted, such as the exploration of R&B, this is very much a trap album.
The lack of features is somewhat disappointing, as it would’ve been interesting to hear a few different voices on the varying types of exemplary production present. As far as debut album releases go, this is a solid effort, one which will pacify fans and maybe even critics alike. However, let’s hope that the blossoming relationship with Amber Rose doesn’t allow his music to soften.
Read more articles by Liam Thornton here.