21 Savage, the 24-year-old Atlanta rapper who sounds like a deadpan killer on wax, did not, in the first moments of his career, strike anyone as an artist capable of serenading the listener. Offering clear-eyed advice about what to do when someone sneak disses on Twitter and you want to retaliate? Definitely. Convincing you to spend three months salary on a chain instead of a ring because your sidepiece is salty and undeserving? Bingo. Planning a hit in great detail? Sure. But warbling a gentle invitation to spend the weekend together, drinking and having fun? You must be mistaken.
And yet "FaceTime," from 21 Savage's solo debut Issa Album exists, tackles just that. And what's more, it's convincingly executed and sounds great.
Savage Mode, his 2016 collaboration with producer Metro Boomin, made 21 a rap news regular and introduced a wide audience to his brutal, uncompromising worldview. Its scope was limited and did not suggest the expanded vision of this latest project. I'll be the first to admit that it took me months to find an entry point into the claustrophobic experience of Savage Mode (and that once I did, I found a sliver of extremely dark comedy to the proceedings—maybe that's just me). But once I did, I appreciated the sparseness of the production and how 21's monotone yet coarse delivery fit it like a glove—an MC in total lockstep with their producer, as we just saw with 4:44, can result in a powerful chemical reaction.
Issa Album doesn't pull a sharp left—21 will still explain, calmly, that he has no less than eight people standing by to gun you down. But it turns out that 21 Savage has an ear for melody that recalls Drake's pop-rap hits; he feels romantic love and anxiety, worries about the happiness and health of his three children, and loves when his mom is proud of him. After the blood-splattered grayscale of Savage Mode, it's an album in something like three-dimensional Technicolor. 21 has the range.
"FaceTime," "Special," and "Thug Life" convince the skeptic that 21 Savage makes multifunctional music. Music for family barbecues, even. I bet my dad would enjoy the Auto-Tune sing-song of "FaceTime," produced by DJ Mustard. People literally smile in these songs—"We just chillin at the bar and she cheesin." Imagine, we now live in a world where you could conceivably blast a 21 Savage song from your Beats Pill in a private Snap as a way of pursuing a romantic interest.