21 Savage’s “i am > i was” Showcases Musical Growth

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Photo courtesy of Ralph Arvesen | Flickr

Spencer Wu
Senior Copy Editor

Atlanta rapper 21 Savage parades his triumphs and maturation in his aptly titled sophomore album i am > i was. In it, he delves into introspective ideas and themes such as family matters and the pitfalls of wealth and fame. The hour-long project showcases a hearty cast of features, including J. Cole, Childish Gambino, Post Malone, Schoolboy Q, and even Travis Scott in the deluxe version.

Savage broke into the mainstream in 2016 with hits “Bank Account,” “No Heart,” and “X,” featuring Future. With these songs, he has developed the southern trap scene by popularizing his unique flow and laid-back delivery. He has also collaborated with some of the biggest influencers, artists, and DJs in the rap game, including Metro Boomin, Drake, Mike Will Made It, YG, Rich Brian, and NAV.

i am > i was starts off with “a lot,” a catchy tune that details Savage’s rich history with money, violence, and women. Although these themes seem like common tropes in the modern trap rap era of music, they set up the “I Was” portion of the album. He acknowledges that these blessings and curses in his life have shaped him into the man he is now. “I been through the storm and it turned me to a G / But the other side was sunny, I get paid to rap on beats,” he admits.

For the third verse, J. Cole makes an appearance where he discusses his role in the rap game as he takes on a mentor-mentee relationship with the new school of the industry. Cole shouts out 6ix9ine for his turbulent rise and warns against the pitfalls of fame. He also name-drops Philadelphia 76er-injured-rookie Markelle Fultz and fellow Fayetteville baller, Dennis Smith Jr.

Another notable track is “all my friends,” in which 21 relinks with Post Malone. The two previously made “rockstar,” which is now 7x platinum in the United States, racking up over 7,000,000 units sold.

In this song, the two artists recount how money and fame have negatively affected their past friendships. Malone harmonizes on the chorus, “I lost all my friends countin’ bands in the Bentley coupe … I don’t need no friends if you really wanna know the truth,” while 21 echoes the same theme in his verse: “Lost a couple friends, I ain’t even really mad though. Hard to tell the real from fake because nowadays, they got masks on. Who gon’ be around when the fame and the cash gone? I don’t need no friends, what’s a friend if it ain’t no trust?”

“asmr” is another unique and fast paced song that showcases Savage’s signature hushed rhyming. His quiet bars play hand-in-hand with the video trend that leaves the listener with a tingling sensation. Produced by Metro Boomin, the song is reminiscent of tracks off his latest works like “Without Warning” and “NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES.”

However, this song attracted controversy with a racially insensitive line: “We been gettin’ that Jewish money, everything is Kosher (On God).” Savage has since issued an apology in a tweet, reaffirming that he “love[s] all people.” Even LeBron James, a global icon who tends to jam out to songs on his Instagram stories and videos, received flak for reposting the lyrics.

Overall, this project showcases 21 Savage’s versatility into a more mainstream role. His collaborations with major artists extend beyond his features on others’ tracks. His newest album is a more extensive and lyrically sophisticated work than his previous two albums, which sound like one continuous trap track.

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