10 Takeaways From 21 Savage and Metro Boomin’s ‘Savage Mode II’

21 Savage and Metro Boomin are back with their collaborative album 'Savage Mode II.' Here are 10 first impressions and takeaways after an initial listen.

21 Savage and Metro Boomin

Image via Metro Boomin

21 Savage and Metro Boomin

Cue ominous basslines and knife sound effects. 21 Savage and Metro Boomin are back with Savage Mode II.

Following the success of 2016’s Savage Mode and 2017’s Without Warning, the duo have returned with yet another collaborative project. And this time, they’ve let Drake, Young Thug, and Young Nudy join in on the action.

The album was announced with a cinematic trailer and a movie poster, which is fitting for an album that’s narrated by the legend himself, Morgan Freeman. Any album that opens with the actual voice of God saying shit like “booming metropolis” and “savage land” over a Metro Boomin beat is off to a great start. But did the rest of the album live up to the intro? Have 21 Savage and Metro Boomin established themselves as one of the best rapper-producer duos in all of hip-hop right now? Is it as good as the first Savage Mode?

We’ll dive into the album more deeply in an in-depth review next week, but we couldn’t start the weekend without sharing some first thoughts and impressions. Continue for 10 big takeaways from 21 Savage and Metro Boomin’s Savage Mode II.

During an interview with the Big Facts podcast this week, 21 Savage claimed he put together Savage Mode II like it was a movie, explaining, “Some people just throw a bunch of songs together and put it out. But the way me and Metro do it, everything matches up. It’s like Metro scored this shit.” He wasn’t lying. This is the most cinematic rap album of the year. Getting Morgan Freeman to narrate the intro could have been a cheesy gimmick if they didn’t use him properly (other rappers like B.o.B. have already hired the voice of God to do album intros before). But no one has weaved Freeman’s iconic voice throughout an entire project like this and done it so effectively. Introducing a song like “Snitches & Rats” with a dramatic interlude where Freeman breaks down the subtle nuances between snitches and rats is next-level. That’s how you make a fucking rap album. And it doesn’t hurt that Freeman’s booming voice is a perfect match for Metro’s similarly theatrical, bass-heavy production.

The movie aesthetic on this album goes far beyond Morgan Freeman’s narration. Each song carefully transitions to the next without exposing any seams, and even after a precursory listen, it’s clear a lot of thought went into sequencing. Like 21 teased in the interview, it really sounds like Metro approached this album like he was scoring a film, strategically introducing a tonal shift by throwing dramatic strings at the beginning of “Many Men,” right after Freeman imparted a touch of wisdom at the end of “Slide.” Every element of Savage Mode II is delivered with a dramatic flair. Somewhere, you know a horror film director is scrambling to license an instrumental version of “Glock In My Lap.” Hidden under 21 repeating the word “pussy” over and over, that beat sounds like a foggy cemetery in late October. —Eric Skelton

If you say anything with enough confidence, you’ll get away with it. Even if it’s a line like, “Right hand on my glock, left hand on her coochie.” Or even, “I’m a savage but I fuck her to a slow song.” In the wrong hands, some of these bars would backfire, but anything delivered with 21’s icy drawl sounds cool as hell. He can really get away with anything. I imagine 21 reading the script of Spy Kids over a Metro beat and everyone would nod their heads, like, “Yeah, this is hard.” It’s his superpower. —Eric Skelton

If you follow 21 Savage on Instagram, you’ve probably already seen his infamous IG Live sing-alongs to R&B classics. And whenever interviewers ask him what he’s listening to, he goes on and on about Jagged Edge and other R&B acts. He’s been playing around with incorporating R&B-influenced melodies since recording songs like “FaceTime” on Issa Album, but those experiments were uneven at times. On Savage Mode II, you can hear him gain more control over his own vocal range. Instead of hiding under a heavy layer of AutoTune, he leans into the gravelly quality of his voice and pulls off subtly effective hooks on songs like “Rich N***a Shit.” It’s a bold move choosing to handle hook duties on a song with Mr. Singer-Rapper himself, Drake, but 21’s “I’mma sliiiiiiiiide” chorus is the kind of off-kilter chorus that crawls its way inside your brain and never leaves. —Eric Skelton

Since Metro Boomin emerged in the early-2010s, Metro has been regarded as one of the top producers coming out of Atlanta, but his production continues to get better with time. On Savage Mode II in particular, Metro flexes his diversity. “Glock in My Lap,” which sits early on the tracklist, features the same menacing and haunting production that we’ve heard throughout his career. But then he transitions to records like “Mr. Right Now” and “Said N Done,” which lean more towards the R&B side with soulful samples and lighter instrumentals. He then switches it up again with “Steppin on Niggas,” which has a more old-school, ’80s beat. In the past, particularly on projects like Issa Album and even Savage Mode, Metro has been applauded for his uniformity in beat selection, rarely veering away from the trap sound. But here, we see more variety, and it doesn’t sound forced, rushed, or overcomplicated. And despite the variation, Metro doesn’t lose the all-important chemistry he has with 21 Savage. —Jessica McKinney

Drake made a quick appearance on “Mr. Right Now,” where he revealed some surprising news. Apparently, he dated SZA for a short period more than a decade ago. On the track, he raps, “Yeah, said she wanna fuck to some SZA, wait/Cause I used to date SZA in ‘08.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t go into more detail about that relationship, and SZA has yet to respond to the song. But it’s definitely getting a lot of reaction from listeners on Twitter, who point out that SZA was only 18 for a couple months of 2008. —Jessica McKinney

21 Savage is very careful with his words. If you’re the kind of person who loves Eminem-style writing that packs a barrage of intricate thoughts and references into each verse, this isn’t the album for you. But 21 succeeds by being extremely direct. Sure, he could spend 16 bars going on and on about the ramifications of a broken relationship, but he’d rather just say “rest in peace to love” and move on to the next thought. He makes room to have fun with clever punchlines and double entendres, slipping in lines like, “I did a 69 with hеr friend, I’m prayin’ to God she don't tell on mе,” but he always does it in an extremely purposeful way. Sometimes less is more, and 21 Savage has mastered the art of getting his point across as efficiently as possible. —Eric Skelton

Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman is the unlikely star of Savage Mode II. Freeman plays a large role in stringing the album together. He first appears on the project’s intro, using his omnipresent vocals to present the sequel album, then he pops up on the outro of many of the records. But his most entertaining moment comes on the “Snitches & Rats Interlude,” where he explains the exact difference between a “snitch” and a “rat.” “Snitches and rats are not the same thing, let me break it down to make sure y’all see what I mean,” he begins. “A snitch is someone minding other folks’ business. To find information they can sell for a price or trade for some other form of compensation. A rat is a traitor, a conceiver, planner, or physical participator. He betrays the trust of his team or family hoping to save his own cowardly ass.” Though he didn’t explicitly name him, many believe Freeman’s monologue was aimed at 6ix9ine, who has been dubbed a rat for his involvement in the Treway federal case. This shouldn’t be surprising, considering 21 Savage has had a strong reaction to snitches for years. —Jessica McKinney

One critique you could always make about 21 Savage and Metro Boomin’s collaborations was that the music sometimes ended up sounding similar and blending together. Of course, this seems to be by design, with the purpose of creating cohesive albums (see point No. 1 on this list), but some people complained about it anyway. Many of the songs on Savage Mode II have a similar bass-heavy, ominous vibe as everything else they’ve released, but they take time to throw a couple curveballs at you, just to keep things interesting and prove they aren’t one-note. Three-quarters of the way through the album, “Steppin On Niggas” comes out of nowhere with a completely different energy than everything else on the album. This shit sounds like it’s straight from 1987. Totally caught off-guard, I kept waiting for an Eazy-E guest verse at the end of this thing. You’ve gotta love a left-field surprise like this from Metro and Savage. —Eric Skelton

This might ruffle the feathers of some traditional rap purists, but it’s time to acknowledge the phenomenal run that 21 Savage and Metro Boomin are on as a duo. They now have three collaborative projects together: Savage Mode, Without Warning (with Offset), and Savage Mode II. And that’s without including countless one-off collabs and songs that ended up on either of their solo albums. Each time they work together, these guys make each other better. 21 Savage has had success working with other producers on i am > i was and Issa Album, but his deadpan delivery never works as well as it does with Metro’s similarly sinister production style. And Metro has hits with a ridiculous list of A-list rappers by now, but when it comes to locking in with one rapper and building a whole universe around a specific sound, he’s never as effective as he is with Savage. Outside of obvious examples like Drake and 40, there aren’t many contemporary rapper-producer pairings whose styles complement each other as well as Metro and Savage. Since first hearing Savage Mode, we knew how strong their chemistry was, but now they’ve had the time to build a substantial, bulletproof collaborative catalog together. It’s still early, and they certainly haven’t passed the all-time greatest rapper-producer duos yet, but it’s time to at least start acknowledging them in the conversation. —Eric Skelton

There haven’t been many blockbuster rap albums that lived up to the hype over the past few months. Early in quarantine, there were some great releases from major stars, but then everyone started shifting their album plans back, and we hit a dry streak. That’s not to say there hasn’t been anything worth listening to (the Griselda crew alone have provided plenty of excellent music) but rap’s biggest stars have been quiet. Then Big Sean came through a few weeks ago with Detroit 2. And now, 21 and Metro have lived up to very high expectations with Savage Mode II. Traditional live performances still seem to be a long way away, but as the world slowly opens up again, this could be a sign that we’re about to be hit with a bunch of huge rap albums. Heavy-hitters like Drake and Kendrick Lamar have been holding tight, waiting for the right moment to return, and I imagine plenty of other A-listers are doing the same. Watch the sales numbers for Savage Mode II closely, because when the seal is broken and successful albums like this prove it’s a viable time to release music again, it seems likely we’ll be hit with an avalanche of huge records. We can’t wait. —Eric Skelton

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