I still remember the first time I heard 21 Savage. It was very late at night in a shopping center parking lot, and my friend nearly blew out the speakers in his car playing “Red Opps.” I didn’t know who I was listening to, but the nonchalant and menacing way 21 was rapping bars like, “I just bought a 30 and I put some rounds in it/Pull up to your momma house and put some rounds it,” had me ready to put a Walmart employee in a full Nelson. Fast forward to the release of Savage Mode II, and he is still bringing the spirit of Chris Masters out of me.
Savage Mode II, the follow-up to 21 Savage’s 2016 collaborative album with Metro Boomin of the same name, arrived amidst heavy anticipation. It’s been four since their last collaborative album, but the two have been far from inactive. Since 2016, Metro dropped a chart-topping solo album, released collab projects with artists like Big Sean and Nav, and produced hits for the likes of Drake, Future, and the Weeknd, further solidifying his spot as one of the most successful producers in rap. Savage also took advantage of that time by dropping two chart-topping solo albums, earning many platinum plaques, and winning a Grammy. To say the least, both artists have only gained new powers since the first Savage Mode. And now that the follow-up has finally arrived, the high expectations have absolutely been met.
Between “Red Opps” and Savage Mode II, 21 Savage has evolved as a rapper. He raps about a wider variety of topics, can pull off more flows, and has grown into a more polished lyricist. On a song like “Said N Done,” not only is he rapping over a very soulful and laid-back beat, which is something he didn’t do a lot of in the beginning of his career, he also raps about street life in more detail than we’re used to, delivering bars like, “He ain’t have no business in that car, now he ready to tattle/Just got shipped to diagnostics now he on the platter.” Savage is somebody who raps a lot about people betraying his trust, and a bar like that goes beneath the surface to show how easy it is to end up in a situation where your loyalty is put to question in a matter of seconds, just because of one wrong decision. Throughout the album, 21 also pushes himself musically, like on “Stepping on Niggas,” where he’s raps over a throwback beat. This song sounds like it could have been released on Ruthless Records in ’93 with an MC Eiht feature on it. It’s a beat you would’ve never heard Savage on earlier in his career, and the fact he sounds so comfortable over production like this is a testament to how much he’s grown as a rapper. Pulling all these skills together, 21 Savage successfully executed the most ambitious album of his career.
The whole album has a cinematic feel, which is largely due to the work of Metro Boomin. Importantly, Metro is able to make the album feel like a motion picture, without losing any of the street energy that guides every 21 Savage release. Savage relentlessly hits you over the head with back-to-back bars, while Metro delivers production that’s as spooky and dramatic as Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist. Most of the beats on this album sounds like they were commissioned by Steven Spielberg, if he grew up on Bouldercrest. “Glock in My Lap,” specifically, sounds like what you’d hear if Freddy Kruger was chasing you down in True Religion jeans and Jordan 11s. The way the dissonance in the string section of the hook appears out of nowhere feels like Savage and Metro were screaming “Candyman” in the studio one too many times and he appeared to visit them in the night like Nicodemus. Somebody really needs to start a petition for Jordan Peele to include this song in his remake of Candyman. Of course, trying to make a whole album sound like a movie, full of dramatic strings and interludes, could have easily become gimmicky, but Metro used enough restraint to pull it off.
Savage Mode II features Drake, Young Thug, Young Nudy, and the most surprising of all: Morgan Freeman. The one and only. From the opening seconds of the album, his narration adds to the cinematic atmosphere that they were shooting for. Hearing the legendary actor detail the difference between a snitch and a rat on “Snitches & Rats (Interlude)” is one of the best moments of 2020. Throughout the rest of Savage Mode II, his iconic voice is used between songs as a glue to hold the album together. The other guests also fit very well with the overall theme of the album. Drake’s verse on “Mr. Right Now” does clash a little with the overall dark energy of the album, as he raps about women and love, but even he attempts to match the energy with bars like, “Cell phones out when I roll up, the nigga had a problem till I showed up.” Savage’s performance is superior, though, as he delivers one of the best bars on the whole album: “She want me to fuck her to some Keith Sweat, but she lives in the apartments I got beef at.”
“Many Men” is a standout, opening with Metro’s tag of Young Thug vociferating “Metrooooooooo,” which is an immediate indicator that any song is going to be great. The production is very somber, sounding like Final Fantasy XV with hard-hitting drums. Savage pulls several inspirations for the song, not only sampling 50 Cent’s “Many Men,” but also seeming to adopt Kodak Black’s flow from “Roll in Peace,” which is just one of several flows he tries out on the song. Then, out of nowhere, he delivers the bar, “We don’t pump fake we kill beef/ 21 Savage not Jeezy (pussy!)” which caught me completely off guard, and I would assume it caught Jeezy off guard, as well. We’ll have to wait and see if it’s worth a conversation for Jay ‘Jeezy’ Jenkins to have.
“Snitches & Rats” is another highlight, featuring Young Nudy. The hook is centered around Savage rapping, “He told on his brother; his brother told back/They say that they twins, we call em’ Siamese rats,” which is a hilarious line to think about. Being determined to be the most decorated snitch in the family is insane. I just imagine they applied the Mamba Mentality to snitching and these “siamese rats” went to the police station to have a snitch-a-thon. Taking the concept to another level, Metro provided perfectly menacing production for Savage and Nudy to voice their disgust about finger-pointers over. Every time an allegation is brought up about a rapper being a snitch, be prepared for this to be the theme song.
One of the most introspective songs on the album is “RIP Luv.” No other beat on this album is quite like this one. With help from Zaytoven, Metro produced a song that sounds like something somebody in the sLUms Collective would rap over, specifically MIKE. The overall vibe makes me want to hear 21 Savage venture off into even more left-field territory and rap over beats by producers like Knxwledge or Navy Blue. Savage raps about giving up on love after being heart-broken and betrayed by a woman that he was ride-or-die for, and with lines like, “I was sliding like an earthworm, loco but I never ever ever brought that dirt home,” it shows how much he’s grown as a writer over the course of his career.
Savage Mode II has something for everybody, including love songs, songs to pregame to before illegal activity, songs for people who smoke black and milds and wear black Air Forces, and songs you’re going to hear on repeat on every aspiring basketball players’ mixtape videos. 21 Savage and Metro Boomin made sure it was still a very cohesive project, though, paying close attention to the overall direction of the album. They scaled up what they’ve been doing for well for years, and executed everything on a higher level. If Savage Mode II is a movie, they made a blockbuster. Based on early projections, it’s already on pace to be 21 Savage’s most successful album yet, and it feels like the kind of album that will turn people who were casual Savage and Metro listeners into diehard fans. To think that 21 Savage had me ready to commit felonies at Walmart in 2015 and now he’s making albums of this magnitude is a beautiful evolution to witness.