21 Savage and Metro Boomin are not taking any chances with the follow-up to their acclaimed 2016 mixtape ‘Savage Mode’. After teasing the follow-up for a year, the duo have finally returned with the second instalment in the series. Everything is so considered here: the cinematic album cover, the production, the choice of features – and all of it underpinned by narration from Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman. ‘Savage Mode II’ is near-perfect.
Rapper 21 Savage has had an illustrious few years since the release of ‘Savage Mode’: he dropped two chart-topping solo albums (‘Issa Album’ and ‘I Am > I Was’ in 2017 and 2018) earned himself Platinum plaques and won the Best Rap Song Grammy in 2020 for the soulful ‘A Lot’. Yet it felt like he never was getting the recognition he truly deserved. Everything he achieved felt inevitable, yes, but delayed, as if audiences and the industry were waiting for him to slip up, an idea reinforced when discussions around authenticity arose after it was revealed that he was born in the UK.
His collaborator, producer Metro Boomin, was meanwhile proving himself a name to remember, releasing a chart-topping solo album (2018’s ‘Not All Heroes Wear Capes’) and two collaborative 2017 projects with Big Sean (‘Double Or Nothing’) and Nav (‘Perfect Timing’), all while producing multiple hit songs for Drake, Future and The Weeknd. It speaks volumes that the duo decided to collaborate again on ‘Savage Mode II’. In fact, it’s a statement of intent. Which other rap album in 2020 has had production as good as this? Boomin’s work here is unparalleled. Clearly 21 Savage who has a point to prove, too.
The album begins in cinematic style with Freeman’s voice of God. Though he didn’t write the words – credit for that goes to Big Rube from Dungeon Family, the Atlanta-based musical collective and Outkast collaborators – Freeman’s voice establishes the tone: haunting and severe, eerie and relentless. “Whether from St. Louis or East Atlanta,” he intones, “whether from a savage land or a booming metropolis, whether they are two or two billion, the greatest their numbers could ever become – is to truly become one.”
‘Runnin’ follows that elegiac theme, with Boomin’s haunting production tailor-made for Savage’s casual cadence and flow as he paints grisly scenes with a calm demeanour. With the first bars, he places us in 2016 before allowing the album to reveal his life since then. “Called the first one, ‘Savage Mode’, my mood – that’s what it was / 2016, we was ridin’ around, beatin’ n*ggas up in the club”, he states.
Where 21 Savage and Metro Boomin could have easily gone down a path of unapologetic rawness, they flip expectations here. There’s plenty of the first record’s visceral sound and lyrics, but there are also ballads: the Drake collaboration ‘Mr. Right Now’ slots in as a recess from the grisliness of Savage’s rhymes. The Toronto rapper reveals a past relationship with superstar SZA, saying, “Yeah, said she wanna fuck to some SZA, wait / ‘Cause I used to date SZA back in ’08 / If you cool with it, baby, she can still play,” while 21 Savage waxes eloquent about how much he loves his boo.
‘Stepping on N*ggas’ is another sunny, brightly produced track while ‘RIP Luv’ is darker, addressing longstanding trust issues and ‘Said N Done’ sees him discuss deceased loved ones. But it’s the icy ‘My Dawg’ that really jolts the listener when 21 Savage addresses the revelations about his London birthplace that dominated the timeline last year. “N*gga keep talkin’ that U.K. shit like I don’t got AKs / Like, ’cause I was born overseas, these motherfuckers ain’t gon’ spray-spray / Pull up in your hood, n*gga, 9-1-1 – y’all better call mayday”. It feels like a discussion finally being put to bed, a tired artist sick of the same jokes being levelled at him.
On ‘Savage Mode II’, there are moments when 21 Savage sounds too comfortable in his lane. His commitment to portraying a cold, heartless gangster is compelling, but over 15 tracks, it can be overworked. You might long for him to explore new topics on such an inventive album.
Ultimately, though, ‘Savage Mode II’ feels like a throwback: one rapper and one producer focused on a single creative project. Think Eric B and Rakim; Missy Elliot and Timbaland; Method Man and RZA. Their collaborators, such as Drake and Young Thug (the latter on ‘Rich N**ga Shit’, an anthemic rap about their lavish lifestyles), ably support, stepping in occasionally to craft the project into a more well-rounded shape.
‘Savage Mode II’ allows the Atlanta-based MC the space to make his point and cast all nonsense aside, letting his talent speak for itself. Metro Boomin, meanwhile, further showcases his generational abilities. As a whole, the album is confirmation of two young artists at the top of their game, watching the landscape unfold from the throne they earned themselves four years ago.
Release date: October 2
Record label: Republic Records, Boominati Worldwide, Epic Records & Slaughter Gang