Review: ‘I am > I was’

21 Savage’s newest album shows signs of growth

The title of 21 Savage’s new album is no joke: he is undoubtedly greater than he was. 

In the past I hadn’t really taken him all that seriously because I considered his mellowed out, low-register flow to be a lazy version of trap. 

His new project, though, shows signs of growth.

It helps that the album – wisely – decides to avoid the Migos Culture II strategy of a monotonous 2-hour album by keeping the runtime a fairly tight 50 minutes in length. 

The album opens with what I believe is his best song yet: “A Lot,” featuring a verse from J. Cole, which is driven by a soul sample reminiscent of Childish Gambino’s “This Is America.” The selection of beats as a whole is surprisingly consistent. 

One in particular – “Ball w/o You” – almost sounds jazzy. There’s a wide variety of moods, ranging from certified bangers (“Gun Smoke”, “1.5” with Offset, which looks back at Without Warning), to the late-night urban creeper sound Savage is known for (“Break Da Law” and especially “Good Day” with that Three Six Mafia sample??). 

As can be expected, the louder and more aggressive songs do not stray too far from his stylistic niche, rapping mainly about poverty and gang violence. 

Savage’s flow has very much improved, shattering any expectation that he is an incoherent mumble rapper. He even succeeds in delivering, surprisingly, a more introspective slow sound.

The last of these is the style where 21 Savage really proves himself as both a rapper and a lyricist, discussing the imbalance of fame and love in “Pad Lock” and delivering a passionate tribute to his mother on “Letter 2 My Momma.” 

Savage is easily the most confident he’s ever been on the microphone, bringing a charisma to some of these verses that I never expected from him. 

As for the features, they range from brilliant (J. Cole, Offset, Childish) to decent (Travis, Gunna) to boring (Post Malone, who at this point I am completely sick of, sorry guys). 

The album works much better as a collection of individual songs as opposed to a cohesive whole, which can be said about many recent trap releases. 

21 Savage doesn’t deliver one specific message here, and the constant shifts from typical rap boastfulness to genuine sentimentality prevent “I Am > I Was” from being a great “album.” 

But this is not a bad thing, because the songs have gotten much, much better, and that seems to be what he has been focusing on. 

Honestly, besides “A&T,” which you only need to hear once, this project shows that 21 Savage is on an uphill trajectory.

~Kaz Johnstone, Staff Writer~

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