By Reggie Goudeau
The cover to Metro Boomin and 21 Savage’s 2016 collab album “Savage Mode,” designed by Farris Knudsen.
Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, better known as 21 Savage, has been on a rampage over the last decade with his work on features, and his rapidly developing discography. First gaining popularity with his 2016 collab album Savage Mode with Metro Boomin, 21 has more than found his style and identity since those days. Even back then, his numbers alone spoke for themselves, with Savage Mode selling 500,000 copies. He’s never been a bad artist or MC, but his push into the mainstream and subsequent improvement were shocking. Most people that make music of Savage’s nature quickly burn out if given this level of fame, but 21 has kept that fire alive within his nonexistent heart. If anything, he’s a force to be reckoned with on songs of any style and is likely to steal the show if given the opportunity.
Plenty of hip-hop fans, especially those who have enjoyed and listened to 21 Savage since his earliest projects, can agree he’s had one of the greatest developments of any modern rap artist. His early hits like “X” featuring Future and “No Heart” are still undeniable bangers, with 21 giving a great performance with his calm but eerie delivery. However, this delivery, bars, flow, and subject matter would continue to improve over time, slowly molding the powerhouse of an MC he is today.
One of Savage’s first high-profile features which showcased his ability to blend seamlessly with very different artists was on 2018’s “rockstar” by Post Malone. As the title implies, the song features Post Malone passionately singing about his fun yet self-destructive rockstar lifestyle. Following the second chorus, Savage comes in with a similar delivery while rapping about his version of this experience. It even features the famous line 21 would continue speaking about in his second Post Malone collaboration, “All My Friends.”
The initial line in this track was “They say Savage ‘Why you got a twelve-car garage and you only got six cars?’” He cleverly returns to this thought on “All My Friends,” saying “Why you got a twelve-car garage? Cause I bought six new cars.” This combination of songs would also be the first time of many that he collaborated with someone, and they later returned the favor with an impressive feature on one of his tracks. Despite how different Malone and 21’s audiences are, they made an impressive collab that nobody else could have replicated. This record would not be the only time that Savage would accompany a radically different artist, however.
Later in the same year, 21 was featured heavily on Metro Boomin’s acclaimed album NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES, which went on to sell 1 million copies in just the United States. Although he was on a number of tracks like “Don’t Come Out the House,” and “No More,” the more popular and impressive contribution to this project was his work on “10 Freaky Girls.” It felt like a perfect evolution of Savage Mode and foreshadowed how both artists would continue improving while working with one another, such as on their later collab albums, SAVAGE MODE II and Without Warning.
Still in 2018, Savage dropped his sophomore album I Am>I Was to near-universal acclaim. Selling the most copies out of his album collection at a whopping 1,110,000 sales, critics and listeners agreed that 21’s title was far from a lie, with the project showcasing Savage at his most introspective and lyrically innovative. Although “All My Friends” featuring Post Malone was a great example, the song best illustrating 21’s development on this record was “a lot” with the seasoned rapper J. Cole.
Although 21 had certainly proven himself on the mic long before this, many still did not expect Cole to collaborate with artists like Savage. Even more surprising was his more subdued yet emotional performance on the record. Cole matched this with an introspective verse about his role in hip-hop and the state of clout-chasing, speaking about rappers like 6ix9ine, and basketball players such as Markelle Fultz and Dennis Smith Jr.. Their masterful writing and clash of styles combined to make yet another notable hit in Savage’s quickly improving discography. As usual, Cole would go on to ask 21 for a feature with the upcoming artist Morray on “m y . l i f e” from his 2021 album The Off Season.
In recent years, 21 has gone even more out of his comfort zone, featuring on songs with people from completely different genres. Although his work with Malone and Cole remains impressive, Cole is still an MC, and Malone often works with hip-hop artists. Even so, “R U That” with Jamaican dancehall artist Shenseea, and the “Peru (Remix)” by Nigerian singer Fireboy DML and featuring Blast remains impressive and innovative. He may not have the exact same dark and heartened delivery and subject matter on these songs, but that is far from wrong. If anything, it’s impressive that Savage can alter his approach to tracks of different natures, and indicates his growth as an artist.
21 Savage has proven himself more than formidable as a rapper. His discography alone is evidence of this, one of the most poignant examples being “Her Loss,” his most recent collaborative project with Drake. Although he made a significantly smaller contribution to this record than Drake, he stole the show on nearly everything and absolutely contributed to the album’s #1 spot on the Billboard 200. “On BS,” “Broke Boys,” and “3AM on Glenwood” feature some of his most impressive performances on the album. The only moments Drake avoided getting washed —- besides the intro “Rich Flex” —- were when 21 was deliberately omitted from a track, or given less time to shine on certain records.
Considering that Drake was once the exact figure Savage has become, a show-stealing star, this album felt like Drake passing the torch, even if reluctantly. It’s guaranteed that if 21 continues on this pattern, by the end of his career, he’ll have a spot as one of trap’s modern GOATS.