With his sophomore album in the works, we take a look at 21 Savage's best features over the past 15 months.
In the three years and change since his debut mixtape, The Slaughter Tape, 21 Savage has continuously subverted expectations. While his first two mixtapes failed to establish 21 as a unique voice amongst Atlanta's rapidly growing new school, his 2015 EP with Sonny Digital, Free Guwop, was an unexpectedly sharp outing that gave us left-field hits like "Red Opps." An eerie precursor to the horrorcore sound that would become his calling card, 21 built off this experiment by doubling down in the booth, arriving almost exactly 12 months later with his second EP, Savage Mode, this time with Metro Boomin. His patience and dedication to craft paid off; Savage Mode is a brilliantly curated collection of gleefully morose songs, and one of the best projects of 2016.
Where he could've been flooding the market with mixtapes, EPs and other side projects, 21 Savage opted to lay low and hone his talents. After the viral success of Savage Mode his stock rose considerably and he became more visible, but his next project - his studio debut, Issa Album - didn't arrive for another 12 months. It was only after the impressive sales of Issa, a feature-less showcase of conviction that saw a 3x platinum hit in "Bank Account," that 21 broke tradition to deliver Without Warning, a surprise collaborative effort with Metro Boomin and Offset of Migos. Since then, he has once again embarked on a year-long hiatus of sorts, and has only recently started teasing a release date for his sophomore effort. Through a series of tweets he's confirmed that this yet-to-be-named album would be dropping at some point this month, and with his birthday right around the corner (10/22), that release date could be as soon as this week.
In anticipation of 21 Savage's next project, we've decided to comb through his features since Issa and assemble the most impressive guest spots. Considering his affiliations with both pop stars and the underground Atlanta scene, some may be more familiar than others. As always, make sure to highlight your own favorites and any features we may have missed in the comments below.
10. BlocBoy JB - "Rover 2.0"
A remix of BlocBoy JB's first mainstream hit, “Rover,” this remix sees 21 Savage's perpetually cool demeanor act as the perfect foil to JB's unbridled energy. "Salt kills snails, not players," he raps in a matter-of-fact manner, maintaining his composure even when delivering the deadliest of threats. The whole verse plays like a warning shot from Savage to an unnamed rival.
9. Loso Loaded - "Never Seen"
Loso Loaded first rose to prominence alongside SahBabii after featuring on the latter's 2016 breakout hit, "Pull Up Wit Ah Stick". 21 Savage, who hails from the same area of Atlanta as the aforementioned up & comers, was quick to cosign both acts. 21's flow on "Never Seen" relentless and the lyrics are both humorous ("We movin' silent, but the weed loud/Choppa kickin' like Kung Pow!") and witty ("come through like Obama - tinted").
8. Sahbabii - "Outstanding"
Another 9th Ward connection, 21 first cosigned Sahbabii after Sah shouted out 21's Slaughter Gang on "Pull Up Wit Ah Stick". On "Outstanding", a street single for Sah's Squidtastic, they connect for a hypnotic tribute to the finer things. 21 skillfully balances Sah's laid-back melody with an uptempo cadence that makes the most out of his brief verse.
7. Cardi B - "Bartier Cardi"
An attempt at outdoing her uber confident breakout single "Bodak Yellow", "Bartier Cardi" aimed for straight savagery and enlisted Mr. Savage himself to help get the point across. 21 exudes an effortless charisma on here and embodies the cocky aura of a newly minted star. In his own words: "All these VVSs, n***a, my sperm worth millions".
6. Metro Boomin & Big Sean - "Pull Up N Wreck"
For some inconceivable reason, Big Sean has become a poster child for #BARS, often placed in the same tier as a Kendrick Lamar. 21 Savage isn't afforded as much respect in the lyrical arena as Sean, but his aggressive guest verse on "Pull Up N Wreck" is a clear highlight on the entire, underwhelming project.
5. Travis Scott - "NC-17"
Travis Scott's highly-praised Astroworld was home to some of the most interesting production of 2018. It contained many enthralling beat switches that helped level up tracks that may have otherwise been forgettable. One of the most captivating moments arrives late in the album on "NC-17" as a twinkling, boyish beat morphs into something a lot more sinister, effectively clearing the path for 21 Savage's stark brand of realism. Although he's still buying Russian women visas (seemingly a favorite pastime of his), 21 is also stretching his vocals in new melodic ways on this track.
4. Post Malone - "Rockstar"
Post Malone's raps often exist in a fantasy world of his own concoction; it's a stark contrast to 21 Savage's grim, autobiographical approach to lyricism. For someone who has endured the kind of upbringing 21 has, his current lifestyle may often feel beyond even his wildest dreams, and from his first two bars he manages to capture that confused combination of disbelief and acceptance. This 7x platinum single, the first Billboard Hot 100 #1 for both artists, expertly plays off their disparate styles, positioning 21 Savage as the ruthless hustler-turned-pop star that Malone often feigns to be. It's a surprisingly potent experiment and, due to the overwhelming success of this song, we're sure to get a sequel from the two before long.
3. Quavo - "Pass Out"
As we mentioned the other day, "Pass Out" is one of the best collaborative efforts on QUAVO HUNCHO. 21's verse here is undeniably one of his best since last summer. His flow is catchy, the trademark ad-libs are as sharp as ever, and the lyrics are a string of clever one-liners that include references to everyone from Will Smith, Diddy and Drake to Shiggy, Mickey Mouse and Ricky from Boyz n the Hood.
2. FBG Duck - "Slide (Remix)"
FBG Duck, a Chicago rapper quickly rising to prominence, had a minor hit on his hands with "Slide". A menacing, over-the-top showcase of bravado, it was only fitting that he enlisted 21 Savage for the remix. "You think cause you went and tatted your face, that shit make you tough?" seethes 21 amidst an extended diatribe directed at pseudo-gangsta rappers. While it was initially hard to imagine how his typically reserved cadence would match up to Duck's half-screamed lyrics, 21 shirked any direct stylistic comparisons by coming in fast and strong, and by peppering his verse with autobiographical accounts of his own turbulent history in the streets of Atlanta.
1. Tay-K - "The Race (Remix)"
Tay-K's "The Race" has been extensively covered by the media. After being involved in a murder case at 15 years old, Tay-K was placed on house arrest. He proceeded to cut off his ankle monitor, go on the run, and make a song about it. With a strong but relatively small underground buzz prior to this incident, the song and it's association with his case rocketed the teenager's profile and remixes started to pop up everywhere (Lil Yachty, Isaiah Rashad, and YBN Nahmir have all released their own freestyles over the beat). He received cosigns from several people in the industry, culminating in this official remix featuring 21 Savage and his cousin, Young Nudy.
After just having crossed over from self-proclaimed "Slaughter King" to pop-star status, 21's verse is a charismatic, unfiltered look at the positive turn his life has taken. "Four shows, n***a I can buy a Wraith/My street cred platinum, ain't nothin' fake/Pulled up to the Slut Walk with a K/You a internet gangster, I'm a ape," he raps, referencing his chart-topping successes as well as his relationship with then-girlfriend Amber Rose. Full of venom yet delivered with a joyous nonchalance, this verse is the archetypal 21 Savage verse, a perfect example of all that makes him such a fan-favorite.