With a hit song like ‘Bank Account’, 21 Savage is the perfect cover star for the Get Money issue of Viper. Having aggressively worked his way from the streets of Atlanta to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 charts, several times in fact, his success alone confirms his status as a star. However, on his journey to the top, 21 Savage has evolved not just lyrically, but in philanthropic ways too. In light of his past, 21 is making moves to improve the lives of the youth. He can be pretty conservative with words and when we meet him, we find out he’s definitely not one to give much away. Even his press agent notes, “he’s a man of few words.” So join us as we explore the rapid evolution of one of Atlanta’s biggest rap stars…
First appearing on the scene in 2013, it wasn’t until 2015 that 21 Savage dropped his debut single, ‘Picky’. The track’s chorus sees him boast that he’s “young, dumb and reckless,” a claim made in response to having just bought an $80,000 piece of jewellery. Fast forward five years and he’s matured into a globally famous musician, with two RIAA-certified gold projects and countless platinum singles. Though you could credit Future’s appearance for the exposure, the success had more to do with the chemistry between 21 and his go-to producer, who some would call the father of the new Atlanta trap scene; the incomparable Metro Boomin.
Believing he does his best work when working with just one producer, he says, “Ain’t nothing wrong with multiple producers but if I could, I would [make music] with one because that gives them the chance to give the production their all.”He added, “they’re going to be more motivated to go harder on your project and won’t do that if there are 30 other producers on the album.”
Savage has established himself in the commercial rap world, appearing on chart-topping singles like Post Malone’s ‘Rockstar’ and Drake’s ‘Sneakin’. However, it’s on his own projects that 21 shines the brightest. His mixtapes, specifically ‘Slaughter Tape’, ‘Savage Mode’ and ‘Slaughter King’, were definitive of the trap scene’s rebirth around 2012. Though he wasn’t the only catalyst, his solo tapes quite succinctly proved that 21’s music packed a punch.
His best work is with the hometown collaborators that know him best. His first mixtape, ‘Free Guwop’, released in 2015, was almost exclusively produced by Sonny Digital. However it was 21’s mixtape with Metro Boomin, ‘Savage Mode’, released a year later, that introduced him to the world. The only feature came from Future on ‘X’, arguably one of the most addictive songs on the tape. Saying that, 21 is most competent on his own and the mixtape’s title track is proof of that. In 2017, the duo followed up ‘Savage Mode’ with ‘Without Warning’ also featuring Offset, plus Quavo on one track. The presence of members of fellow Atlanta-bred, Migos, served to clarify their roles of Migos, Metro and Savage as Trap’s young holy trinity.
As a new school rapper, 21 has been criticised for a lack of lyricism, with some claiming he’s not worthy of the title of a “real” hip hop artist. But 21’s attitude towards his lyrics and the genre of hip hop itself, make him one of the most genuine rappers around. What does it even mean to be a “real” hip hop artist in today’s era? Addressing the basic definition of the word, being “real” is something that 21 Savage says a lot of rappers from Atlanta are not. “I know they’re definitely not like me because a lot of them lie [about their lifestyle].” 21 is the real deal, and he knows it. He reiterates this in the lyrics of ‘No Heart’ saying, “I’m a real street nigga, bitch. I am not one of these niggas bangin’ on wax.” The hook of the song also sees him answer his own question when he spits, “Why you pullin’ all these rappers’ cards? ‘Cause these niggas pussy and I’m hard.”
Many OG’s would say that the only thing a man owns is his word, and 21’s reserved nature allows him to protect it. Even in his music, the rapper is concise, his lyrics totally free of excess. Producer Zaytoven believes this trait is what makes 21 stand out, “A lot of times artists rap with a whole lot of words and metaphors – to simplify it and say all that you are trying to say in a few phrases is a gift.” Now 21 may just be hesitant to keep some things to himself, but the Slaughter Gang rapper was still generous enough to share some of his own gems with us. Hailing from the home of Trap music, Savage is clearly influenced by his predecessors, but also many West Coast gangsta rap icons. “I listen to everybody,” says 21 when asked about his favourites, “YG, Nipsey [Hussle], but back in the day it was N.W.A., Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Too Short, E-40, Digital Underground, 2Pac.”
One of the worst stereotypes towards hip hop artists is their supposed inability to manage their money. In contrast, 21 Savage rapped on ‘Darth Vader’ about holding on to funds, with lines assuring listeners that his property is owned, not leased. He dropped lines about lavish business meetings with his accountant at a Ruth Chris steakhouse on his ‘Cocky’ verse. Comically on ‘Savage Mode’, he even mentioned falling asleep in classes unless they involved counting numbers. The real gem came when he stated he owns his own master recordings, something many rappers underestimate the importance of.
When it comes to stressing the importance of money, old heads like Wu-Tang have been at the top of the game. Even though it was based in humour, Wu-Tang Financial offered a non-traditional introduction to the conversation on financial assistance. RZA and GZA’s appearance in the Chappelle Show skit was important. It’s not that the skit wasn’t hilarious, it was, but it also helped to start a crucial conversation within communities of colour: one of financial security. Fellow Clan member, Ghostface Killah – who co-incidentally Savage once named a song after – recently established his own cryptocurrency, C.R.E.A.M Capitol, which intends to “make cryptocurrencies more accessible to the general public than ever before.” Though 21 Savage may not be in the same vein of hip hop as Wu-Tang, their focus on making money and investing it is something that 21 can clearly relate to. “The most important lesson is not to blow it,” he says as he ponders his financial success; 21 Savage may be “having fun” when making music, but he’s very serious when it comes to his money.
Photos by Mike Miller
Words by Darius Pleasant