By the power of simple addition (7+7+17-10=21), rapper 21 Savage dropped his debut studio album Issa Album, on July 7, 2017. The Atlanta native follows up his 2016 Savage Mode joint tape with Metro Boomin with a set of 14 tracks, half of which rekindle the 21-Metro union. 21 also enlists production help from DJ Mustard, Zaytoven, Wheezy, Southside and Pi’erre Bourne in addition to taking the helm for orchestrating the track “Bank Account.”
Invoking the nonchalant tonal apathy of an angst-ridden youth, 21 Savage keeps to his namesake, meandering through a bevy of references to all manner of criminality. Beneath the surface level lyrical violence and lust, 21’s persona is largely rooted in a severe emotional disconnect to his past, recalling comrades killed and love lost with a monotonous drawl that runs counter to the more upbeat “bubblegum-trap” tunes from voices like Playboi Carti and Lil Yachty.
To an extent Issa Album is all trap, no filler. Production from Zaytoven and Metro Boomin on “Nothin New” follows the pounding sub-bass-plus-piano backdrop that’s seen employment throughout the Southern hip-hop scene of late. Similarly, Pi’erre takes a shot at incorporating a woodwind and keys arrangement that is ultimately lost to the requisite, even, insatiable amounts of bass. These production choices do nothing more than allow 21 to saunter into his arrhythmic ramblings that find difficulty in commanding attention.
Though much of the album explores the kiddie-pool equivalent of trap-styled compositions, Metro Boomin and DJ Mustard do encourage 21 to step into the deep end, namely on “Thug Life” and “FaceTime.” The former track, produced by Metro has a seemingly reversed sample of female vocals paired with healthy amounts of bass that lends 21 a platform for one of his most introspective tracks of the bunch. “My son got asthma, grandma having spasms,” are 21’s most compassionate lines throughout the album’s 56 minute run-time and give credence to the possibility of a higher plane of lyrical content from the 24-year-old rapper.
The latter track sees DJ Mustard encourage 21’s best rendition of Ty Dolla $ign as he makes inroads towards singing about a relationship he’d rather not fail. 21 shyly sings, “I’m too drunk to text so can we FaceTime? I won’t waste your time if you won’t waste mine, I won’t take your love for granted if you don’t take mine,” apparently overcome with a fit of passion from Mustard’s chilled-out tune. Surely, 21 tosses in a few vulgarities about the contents of his love’s undergarments, and his singing is far from well executed, but his attempt at rhythmic relaxation is much appreciated in an album rife with music fit for a late-night stabbing.
Expectations of lyrical levity from 21 are a bit much to ask (he says “nigga” a total of 281 times and 66 in the final track alone. That’s approximately five times per minute or 20 times per song!), though he does offer a bar or two about walking in Rosa Parks’ shoes or buying fast cars to go, well, fast. Finishing off with a seven-minute freestyle ultimately leaves a sour aftertaste, one which includes a lazy rendition of Drake’s “yeah, yeah” flow from “Live from the Gutter” and a barrage of miscellaneous bars that were better left in the vault.