21 Savage – i am > i was (Deluxe)

By Charlie Racz

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It has been nearly two years since the release of 21 Savage’s Issa Album, an unprecedented and successful project. This accomplishment created much hype and anticipation for a subsequent project. Luckily, 21 has just released his sophomore album, i am > i was (Deluxe), a consistent and profound 16-track project with flawless production. Boasting eleven features—Gunna, Lil Baby, Travis Scott, Offset, Post Malone, Schoolboy Q, and more—this album showcases a complete and noteworthy guest list. I must warn you; nearly every song is an absolute banger.

The album opens up with a lot featuring J. Cole. The style delivered by 21 is informal, creating a lyrical confabulation of sorts. However, his serious and engaging lyrics add the necessary legitimacy to make this approach successful; and it works quite well. With this energy, he speaks on the extent of his struggles and the resulting dichotomy he experiences. The struggle was endured, and success was acquired, but the hardships along the way can’t be forgotten. After 21, J. Cole changes the dynamic of the song entirely. He unloads an unpredictable, expeditious verse that is as smooth as the precedent J. Cole has set in the industry.

The second track, break da law, grabs your attention with an intense and intimidating beat, one curated by Southside, Metro Boomin, and Doughboy Beatz. The beat quickly switches to something much more delightful, change that creates an interesting dynamic for 21. Though his flow stays the same, 21’s energy is altered by the beat switch-up in a curious manner, a phenomenon that speaks to the versatility of his flow. Then, at the end of the last verse, 21 modifies his accent and catches listeners off guard with some melodic and genre-bending vocals that leads into an exploratory outro. Though this is the first instance of harmonizing on the track, these few lines encapsulate the whole essence of the song; 21 is on top of the world, and he doesn’t care what you think about him.

I cannot hesitate to mention that the next song on this album, a&t, is a certified banger. This song, with elements of novelty and nostalgia, is something you’ve never heard before, especially from 21. The upbeat FKi 1st instrumental lays the platform for whimsical and captivating vocals. 21 chose quite possibly the most appropriate feature for this track. The precise and commanding vocals of Yung Miami integrate beautifully with the vibrant beat, as she absolutely kills her verse. 21 goes in on the second verse with familiar flow—slow, steady, and direct. Shortly after, 21 absolutely takes off; for a brief moment of excellence, 21 repeatedly speeds up, slows down, changes accents, and blows listeners away as the final chorus approaches. Just when we think he’s done, 21 gives us a mischievous outro that seals the deal for this classic.

1.5, featuring Offset, is undoubtedly a promising track. NIL$ and Wheezy serve a vivacious beat with enticing flute samples. Offset—who hasn’t missed on a track for quite some time—has been dominating the rap game as of late. In fact, if you are lucky enough to get an Offset to feature, it is likely that he’s going to body you on your own track. However, 21 starts this song off,  and I immediately began to impugn my previous notion. In the opening verse and chorus, he delivers on this track with strong energy and cadence. After the chorus, Offset comes in hot with an unusual amount of autotune. Initially, something about this verse doesn’t feel right, especially after such consistency from 21. After brief commotion, though, he settles into the unforgiving beat (and lives up to expectation) with state of the art Offset bars. This track goes so hard that there’s no need to compare the two moguls featured on it; they both killed this beat.

The halfway point of this album, can’t leave without it, featuring two of the hottest artists in the industry, is perhaps the hardest song on this album. The beat is unforgettable, as Wheezy takes the widely appreciated flute sample to a new level. It quickly becomes apparent that this beat was specifically created for Lil Baby and Gunna, and for three and a half minutes, they thrive. Gunna kicks it off with a hypnotizing hook that potentiates the intoxicating beat, and then 21 takes the wheel. Though the beat is atypical for 21 Savage, he adapts to it without sacrificing anything and delivers the longest verse on the song. From this point on, it’s all about Baby and Gunna. Gunna extends the hook into a verse without changing his flow at all. Then, Baby begins his verse with the same consistency, creating magnificent unison. After the 21 Savage’s verse, it’s hard to tell where the chorus ends, where the verses begin, and who is responsible for the unfaltering heat. I cannot stress enough how incredible this track is.

Featuring the esteemed Schoolboy Q and Project Pat, good day is an interesting collaboration. At first glance, these artists don’t seem like they would flourish on a 21 Savage track; but this is not the case. Utilizing sinister vocal samples, 30 Roc gifts us a mysterious and heavy beat that has nostalgic elements. On this track, 21 takes a step back, providing only the hook. His vocals, though, don’t sound like those of the previous tracks; they are intentionally altered to match the styles of Pat and Q. This accomodation of sound allows the excellent Schoolboy Q verse to reach our ears naturally, and the same goes for Project Pat’s classic verse. This collaboration, though unusual compared to the general tendency of the album, works well and brings diversity to the project.

After a couple more satisfactory tracks, letter 2 my momma, is elegantly gifted to us. Kid Hazel gives us the most divergent beat on the album, one more lighthearted and tender than the rest. This sedating instrumental allows 21 to delve into an evocative and insightful story. 21 explores his regrets, contrition that is rarely found in Slaughter Gang music, and commends his mother for her ubiquitous support. The examples of 21’s appreciation for his mother are grounded and endearing, and he showcases refreshing self-awareness. The best part about this intimate track is that it is chock-full with bars; 21 did it again.

On the next song, 4L, 21 gets back to what he does best. Featuring Young Nudy, this track is all about the heavy hitting Kid Hazel beat and uninterrupted lyrics. 21 gives us two extended verses, teeming with impressive cadence and prolonged energy, separated by an impressive Young Nudy verse. There is so much content that you’ll need to listen for yourself if you wish to understand the magnitude of this five minute banger.

The final track on this album, out for the night – part 2, is ostensibly standard, as it begins with a familiar 21 Savage verse. Around the two minute mark, though, the beat transcends into a psychedelic Travis Scott experience. As usual, Travis blesses us with silky vocals and an unpredictable verse that you will certainly enjoy. La Flame, in all his glory, signals the culmination of the album; and his elegant farewell reminds us that this album is damn good. It exceeded expectations, and there’s not much left to be said.

Photos via viralnewstrends.com, Billboard, and Complex.

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