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Edinboro University & Northwestern Pennsylvania High School Journalism Competition: Third Place (Website)

Album Review: 21 Savage’s I Am > I Was

Album Review: 21 Savages I Am > I Was

Released on December 21, 2018, I Am>I Was is 21 Savage’s second, official studio album. The track list features a variety of hot artists, such as J Cole, Lil Baby, Gunna, and even Donald Glover (Childish Gambino). In the album, 21 Savage conveys his journey as an artist up to this point. Whether it’s him admitting his wrongs, describing his successes, or rapping about who he has become, 21 Savage proves that he is, indeed, a greater artist than he was with this impressive album.

1. “a lot” ft. J Cole (9/10) Choosing “a lot” as the first song on the tracklist was a great decision for this album. Starting the track, 21 continuously questions himself, which provokes the same answer each time, (a lot). He starts off by asking, “How much money you got? (A lot),” which would be expected from a modern rapper. But then he continues on to ask himself questions such as “How many problems you got? (A lot),” “How many people done doubted you? (A lot),” “How many times you got shot? (A lot),” “How many times you cheat? (A lot).” By doing this, 21 owns up to his violent and dark past, showing that he has matured not only as an artist, but as a person.

After 21’s part, J Cole began his verse with a smooth interlude. Then to begin his main verses, he calls out artists in the industry. “Question, How many faking they streams? (A lot), Getting they plays from machines (A lot). I can see behind the smoke and mirrors, *****’s ain’t really big as they seem (Hmm).” Cole also addresses the hot button issue of popular rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine’s arrest. “Pray for Tekashi, they want him to rot. I picture him inside a cell on a cot. ’Flectin’ on how he made it to the top, wondering if it was worth it or not.”

The melody, lyrics, and beat are all on point throughout this song. 21 shows surprising lyrical talent in the track, and J Cole… well, J Cole is J Cole; he always delivers. Not much to complain about on this track, definitely landing a spot on my playlist.

2. “break da law” (4/10) The second track is sort of a disappointing follow-up to “a lot.” Not at all lyrical, the beat is subpar at best, and the flow is pretty one dimensional. All albums usually have one or two low points in them, and I’d say “break da law” fits in that category.

3. “a&t” (4/10) — Back to back subpar songs from 21 Savage. The song starts off with a sample of female artist Young Miami repeatedly saying two obscenities. Following this, 21 gives his verse, which isn’t really anything exciting. The beat is decentbut overall the track is bland and, at some points, annoying to listen to.

4. “out for the night” (7/10) Overall this is a solid track. The song starts with an eerie, wild western-esque guitar melody. Following this, 21 delivers some of his typical bars and ad-libs. What makes this song better than a lot of his others is he switches flows multiple times, where at one point he pseudo-sings while rapping. But besides this, the song is a hype track, but doesn’t really have anything outstanding about it.

5. *** smoke (8/10) 21 picks right up where he left off on “out for the night.” The lyrics aren’t anything out of the ordinary for the east Atlanta artist, but the delivery is very, very strong. The tone of the song is cool and eerie, so layering that with a fast paced flow is a perfect recipe for a fire track. If you’re going to the gym and need some motivational music to push yourself past your limits, this song is for you. 

6. “1.5” (8/10) – 1.5 is another hype track on the album. Featuring prominent artist and “Migos” member “Offset”, the track definitely delivers. The beat in the song is outstanding, which includes a smooth whistle and guitar melody overlapped with trap drums and, of course, bass. Both artists also deliver great verses, while also rapping over the already great beat seemingly perfect. Without a doubt, this song found a spot on my playlist.

7. “all my friends” (9/10)  If you’re looking for an intermission to the hype music, “all my friends” is where to start. The song addresses the issue of friendships and fame, and how it separates the real friends from the fake friends. Featuring Post Malone, the song has everything you would expect from the artist. While Post Malone gives us a typical contribution of his in the song, no one is complaining. Responsible for the hook, Post Malone gives us a calm, chill vibe. He raps and has his verses in the song, which of course deliver.

21’s bars were great as well. While his lyrics to start were a bit mediocre, he later on improves by sticking to the theme of the song. With verses such as, “Lost a couple friends, I ain’t even really mad though… hard to tell the real from fake ’cause nowadays, they got masks on” and “They should’ve went and did stand-up ’cause when the money come, *****s act funny”, 21 raps what he needs to rap, and gives us a solid performance. It’s a great song, and chances are you’ll be hearing this on the radio soon.

8. “can’t leave without it” (9/10) While the song doesn’t really stick to the theme of the album… who cares?! Featuring the dynamic, hot duo of “Gunna” and “Lil Baby,” this is the hardest track in the album. The beat is slow, but almost menacing. Highlighted with a snake whistle, the beat ties into the record label, (“YSL”), Gunna and Lil Baby come from. Members of YSL frequently call each other “slime”, and there really isn’t anything much slimier than a snake. 

Besides the beat, the delivery by each artist is nearly flawless. The transition from artist to artist, the selection of flows, and verse choices were spot on. In my opinion, this is the best “non-lyrical” track on the album, and should definitely be considered a great success for all artists involved. 

9. “asmr” (8/10) — In “asmr,” 21 reminisces about his violent past, and also raps about how he’s retained some of these properties to this day. In bars such as “Drive by? Nah, we the walk-up gang, I come from the 6 where they chalk up lames,” 21 references the violent, east Atlanta hood area “Zone 6” that he grew up in.

The beat in the song is also fantastic, matching 21’s flow perfectly. If there were one critique I’d have of this song it is that he brings back his whispering flow. Used only once before in a previous single called “Don’t Come Out The House,” 21 raps normally… except he’s whispering. Maybe it’ll begin to grow on me, but as of now it’s a little bit corny. 

10. “ball w/o you” (7/10) — “ball w/o you” showcases 21’s authenticity as an artist. It isn’t anything hype, doesn’t have any features, but what makes this track great is the somber tone and flow he uses. 21 rehashes a prior relationship he was, and raps about how he still thinks about this past relationship. If there was one bar that stood out for me in this track, it would be “I’d rather have loyalty than love, ’cause love really don’t mean jack.” It may not be the most complex lyrics, but it’s a powerful bar. Nowadays, it’s unfortunately common for people to be unfaithful in their relationships. They’ll say they’re in love with their partner, but stab them in the back by seeing someone else. But if you have a true, mutual loyalty between you and your partner, the relationship shared is built to last. 

11. “good day” (6/10) — This song is definitely an acquired taste. It has a dark and sinister beat, while also being layered with grimy flows and lyrics. Featuring “Schoolboy Q” and “Project Pat,” the song is a far cry and pariah from the rest of the album. If you’re into this kind of rap, then you’d probably give this song an 8/10 or a 9/10, but for me personally, I don’t particularly enjoy this kind of rap. 

12. “pad lock” (6/10) The song isn’t really that memorable. It stays with the theme of the album, but it’s sort of bland and repetitive. It’s an alright track, but I don’t think I’ll be going back anytime soon to play it again. 

13. monster (9/10) Appropriately titled “monster,” 21 Savage along with Childish Gambino confront the demons that come with the quick fame of becoming a rap star. Gambino takes the position of an artist who has not been completely absorbed by the industry, and raps about how he’s been able to combat the negative temptations of becoming a hip-hop icon. 21 comes with a different perspective, as an artist who has become an integral part of the industry, while also rapping about how he’s trying to evolve out of it. 

The track is very lyrical and powerful, the beat is immersive, and the delivery on the song rivals some of the hardest tracks on the album. Very underrated track in this album, I strongly recommend giving it a listen. 

14. “letter 2 my momma” (8/10) The title of this track is pretty self-explanatory. 21 writes this song for his mother, and thanks her for all she did for him. He frequently references his father, (or lack thereof), and how he abandoned his family. If I were to pick the most powerful bar out of the song, it would be “I’ma raise my kids, nothin’ like my dad, I’m a better dad, you’re the best mama I could ever have”. This bar truly shows that 21 has bettered himself as a person, and shows that he’s committed to becoming a better person. 

The beat is pretty upbeat, and 21’s flow bounces off of it very nicely. I’ve listened this song ten times over already, definitely one of my favorites.

15. “4L” (7/10) — Personally, I would’ve stuck this song somewhere in the center of the album. It serves as a good filler, but I wouldn’t personally use it to conclude the album. But besides that, it’s a decent, hard song. With a feature of Zone 6 native “Young Nudy,” the song serves as yet another hype track, but doesn’t really stick to the theme of the album. Could give the song an 8/10, but what gives it a 7 is how long it goes for. The song is nearly 5 minutes long, and there isn’t really any reason for it. If 21 removed some of his verses, the song would overall be better. 

Final Thoughts: After listening to this album several times, I thoroughly enjoyed it. For the most part, songs were appropriately long and gave some pretty good replay value. 21 Savage is finally starting to show some versatility as an artist, and this album is proof of that. To conclude, I really hope 21 builds off of this successful album and continues to adapt as an artist, because I genuinely think this is his best project to ever come out. 

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