Issa Banger, that’s what “Issa” is. 21 Savage dropped his debut studio album on July 6th, late at night. 21 originally announced that his album would be coming out the day after that, the 7th, but ended up sliding it on iTunes a couple of hours beforehand. There was a lot of hype surrounding this album, stemming from last years “Savage Mode” with Metro Boomin’. “Savage Mode” was one of the grimiest, violent, cold street mixtapes of 2016. With Metro creating haunting, skeletal, bass-heavy soundscapes 21 used his signature growl to portray the life in the trap where he had spent so much time. He had hit success with “X” featuring Future, an absolute banger especially for anyone who’s been recently dumped. “No Heart” was a song that made me go in the street and find the first person I could to brawl with. But if “Savage Mode” was 21 at his dirtiest, his most trap mentality, then on “Issa” we are treated not to another similar performance, but to a matured 21. He’s out of the trap, flying around on private jets with Amber Rose, on red carpets, making the money that he always dreamed about. On “Issa” 21 takes us on a journey through his newfound life, but still with plenty of trips back to his mind-state when he was selling perc’s in the A.
The album opens up with “Famous”. It with piano keys, uplifting chords that leave you at first curious at to what this is doing in a 21 Savage song. 21 opens talking about what has been changing since he had found the fame, how he views the rappers around him who have also made it. It is clear that this is a matured man, one who has dealt with a lot in his past but is ready now to confront those demons and on wax. The momentum continues with “Bank Account”, “Bad Business” songs that we expect to hear from 21. Grittier than the opener, these are street songs without any sort of consciousness thrust into them. The album takes a turn with “Thug Life”, a glitzier, more funky sounding instrumental which is something that 21 has tried before to some success (“Ocean Drive”). “Facetime” is a song that just shouldn’t be on the album, 21 isn’t one of the new generation rappers who (when auto-tuned enough) sound decent enough that it’s listenable. However, “Nothin New” is the most politically, and socially conscious song that 21 has ever released. He touches on a multitude of topics, putting the listener in the head of someone who has lost it all to the system and is willing to do whatever it takes to beat the system and get revenge. The next few tracks are all solid as well, “Numb” being a song that would have fit perfectly on “Savage Mode”, but also a song that shows what we have known for a while about Savage: he has done a lot of dirt in his past, seen a lot of shit, and the money and drugs are his way of coping and forgetting the pain that he experienced. “Dead People” and “Money Convo” are average 21 Savage cuts, darker, street lingo filled, songs to be bumped where heavy bass is allowed.
Overall it is a step in a different direction for 21. He uses his newfound advantages to polish the production until it shines, bringing in Zaytoven and Metro, and uses this new space to change his topic slightly. Not all of the experimentation works, but where it does it is fantastic. “Nothin New” is a 21 that I personally hope sticks around because there isn’t many voices like his (straight off the street) and it can carry weight. This is a nice piece to add to his discography, and it will be interesting to see if he goes back to his roots on his next album or if he continues down this road of instrumental and vocal experimentation.