21 Savage recently sat down with Rolling Stone to talk about the road he has taken to get to where he is now, which includes his debut album Issa that debuted at No. 2. Savage’s road started with struggle, and although he can now count the number of M’s in his bank account (spoiler: there’s eight), there are still setbacks, most notable among them racial issues and the haters.
"I don't think people really understand how hard it is to be black,” Savage said. “Especially when you coming from nothing. In the hood, there's already a lot of hate just amongst us black people. We killin' each other and everybody else killin' us too. We poor. And the world hates us.”
Issa was a departure from Savage’s earlier works in that the rapper made an effort to diversify the topics he raps about. Tracks on the project are more socially conscious than the rapper has ever been musically; “Nothing New” in particular addresses racism and police brutality in the most biting way: “Shit getting outrageous/They treat us like slaves then lock us in cages/I used to sell dope, nigga, now I can’t vote/Popping Percocets to kill the pain, I can’t cope/Anger in my genes/They used to hang us up with ropes/Civil rights came, so they flood the hood with coke.” The rapper also mentions Martin Luther King’s assassination and includes a shout-out to Rosa Parks. Clearly, the man has substance. But Savage didn’t feel like he got the recognition he deserved.
"People always say I don't ever talk about that type of shit, then when I talk about that type of shit, they do everything in their power to not talk about that song," he explained. "They don't give me the credit. Fuck 'em."
That “fuck ‘em” attitude extends beyond this particular issue. While he certainly took some stylistic and tonal challenges on Issa, branching out into love songs and singing, Savage admits that one of the motivations for that were the critics who say all his songs sound the same. "I made sure I made certain songs just so people couldn't say every song sound the same," he admitted. "I was sangin’. That's what everybody else doin'. Shit. Might as well."
But other criticisms, especially those directed at his style of rapping, are harder to combat and therefore seem to annoy the rapper a lot more. "I don't feel like nobody who they say [is] mumble rap mumbles," he said. "They don't understand my slang or my accent. They don't know how to categorize it, 'cause it's art. They're just trying to bring it down."
But Savage doesn’t seem too bothered. He knows he’s got plenty of fans and that he can offer them something no one else can. "They feel like I'm telling the truth—'cause I'm telling the truth,” he added. “That's why a lot of people gravitate towards me: I'm a real nigga in a fake-ass industry."
And at the end of the day, Savage seems to be more than comfortable with such a legacy. “Even if I ain't the famous-est, the richest, the best: As long as I know I kept it real and didn't backstab nobody, I sleep good at night."