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Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend some time with. This week’s album is Savage Mode II 21 Savage and Metro Boomin's new sequel to their essential 2016 collab.
Since Winter first left us, we’ve hung in the limbo of incomplete blockbusters, effectively robbed of every opportunity to collectively engulf ourselves in the euphoria of our choice. No touring, no festivals (save for a smattering of brave parking lots), no gatherings without increased chance of death. With respect to the high-caliber works we’ve received already — via the likes Uzi, Baby, Gunna, Megan singles, etc. — there’s a gap filled only by the bass one’s car can withstand. Is there a “Song of the Summer” when slivers of cloth carry our fate? Can a stream match the sweat and spilled liquor of it all? With seemingly all the time in the world, music fatigue’s settled in like none other: the less spaces to enjoy, the further dampened the impact.
It’s a hell of a time for a rollout, but that’s not stopping 21 Savage and Metro Boomin from reuniting right as the colors change and the world clamors for fright. It makes Savage Mode II an apt merger between long-anticipated sequel and seasonal event, complete with unironic Morgan Freeman narration and Pen & Pixel collaboration. The first installment further built Metro’s legend on the tail end of his mainstream hot streak, while establishing 21 as a deadpan innovator, chilling listeners with ruthless reservation. Together, they delivered a new color of immersive street rap that submerged the atmosphere without subduing the impact, right on the curve of trap music’s late-’10s sonic mutations. While Metro gracefully retreated from the role of It producer, 21 elevated his profile towards a superstardom that’s generated cultural hits, chart-toppers, and international controversy.
Thankfully, Savage Mode II is fully aware of its own hype, and refuses to cannibalize itself due to the gravity of such. It’s neither repeat nor reboot, but a full-on expansion that’s reeling in each member’s comfort zone while updating the duo’s potential in unexpected ways. No matter how quietly Metro lingers under the radar, he’s always sure to reemerge with the shit that’ll rattle any available speaker, and never in the same way he’s done before. The pulse of Memphis rap beats underneath the soul of this record, lending a relentless knock that knows when to scale itself back; Metro’s works are teeming with nostalgia and suspense, going reckless whenever necessary. He remains a prized asset to 21’s vicious candor, and 21 grows even further into his leading role by adding color in all the right places.
The 21 Savage that shows up to Savage Mode II proves that familiar territory doesn’t guarantee predictability; across 44 minutes, he evades boredom and takes enough risks that one can’t telegraph his punches. On face value, he’s the most comfortable he’s ever been: virtually no awkward flow-switches, and more succinct-punchlines-per-bar landed than any other album in his catalog. The self-aggrandizing has gone nowhere, and he plays the bully so flawlessly, he doesn’t have to raise his voice to strike fear. A 21 album will spend over half its runtime doing so, and this is no exception, but there’s a heightened vulnerability to his credit as well. Between filling the expectations, 21’s naming his emotional hurt, speaking to his trials with the UK visa, and still reeling from his journey towards fame that’s given platinum triumph with premium rauma to match.
This newfound catharsis should come as no surprise: while the public afores he projection of 21’s monstrosities so much, a fair amount of admirers (and detractors) have glossed over the emotional weight he’s offered since his mixtapes. This could’ve easily been a subpar gap album propelled by namesake (and Morgan shtick) alone, but there’s no leaning on legacy: Savage Mode II finds 21 and Metro showing up to further reveal and refine the power of what being in Savage Mode can sound like. It could’ve maximized itself by a few cuts of more boilerplate thematic exercises - some records even sound like updates of older attempts - but no record feels mismatched or wholly unnecessary. For those infatuated with the insular sadism of their original effort, this is a blockbuster that nudges forward without losing its edge, leaving enough room for 21, in particular, to further lean into the unexpected to build the longevity he desires on his terms.
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.