Album Review: 21 Savage Shines When He Gets Deep on I Am > I Was

The Lowdown: 21 Savage’s new record, I Am Greater Than I Was (i am > i was), makes for an interesting experience. At times, he will go off on strings of creative wordplay that fuel his stories with adrenaline; on the flip side, there are moments where Savage’s lyrics feel like generic descriptions and statements that lack any substance. One of the record’s more interesting qualities, however, is that duality within his presentation. While the majority of Savage’s songs have some level of lyrical grit to them, there are moments where he opens up to more emotion, incorporating elements of sorrow, love, and anger.

The Good: An example of this dual quality comes in “a lot”. Savage goes into his past struggles, providing a relaxed flow that allows listeners to absorb his words easily. Acknowledging the good in his life along with the bad, his voice gives an air of wisdom from beginning to end. “How much money you got?/ How many problems you got?/ How many people done doubted you?/ Left you out to rot,” he shares at the beginning of the track; the flow continues, guiding the listener on a rich, introspective experience that mixes frustration with joy.

“all my friends” provides a look at how Savage’s fame has cost him friendships. Lines like, “I remember times was dark/ Now I’m backstage with a bar/ Couldn’t pay the light bill/ It was dark,” help to create a real means of better knowing the rapper. Throughout the track, one can hear both pride and disappointment in his voice as he shares his success and losses. “ball w/o you” is a take on Savage’s perception of “love vs. loyalty” in relationships; in the first verse, he says, “I’d rather have loyalty than love/ ‘Cause love really don’t mean jack/ See love is just a feeling/ You can love somebody and still stab them in the back.” Another example of tapping into that deep emotion is “letter 2 my momma”. In expressing the ways his mom has helped him out, the cut is a sentimental experience that is bound to bring a smile to anyone’s face. These songs prove Savage’s ability to weave in different emotions throughout his lyrics. While his ability to creatively fit words together is catchy, these emotional elements are what allow i am > i was to shine.

The Bad: Where i am > i was falters, however, is in its violent lyricism. For anyone who knows Savage’s music, his attraction towards guns makes for a substantial portion of the record. While there some exceptions in creative delivery on the subject matter, Savage primarily focuses on bland statements about waving and popping guns off. Lines such as, “Both sides of the gun/ I done dealt and felt the pain,” provide that dual quality of grit and honest reflection. It’s weird, then, that those feelings are lost when he goes into another song just spitting about murder. In particular, “good day” comes across as an empty experience, pumping up the concept of violent acts rather than conveying a message about violence. Ironically, “gun smoke” addresses Savage’s interest in guns, but offers nothing of substance besides being a catchy track. Whether the songs are entirely devoted to the subject matter or just include it as a side component, there isn’t much to take away other than straightforward aggression.

The Verdict: i am > i was entertains for the majority of its runtime while also presenting great bouts of emotion. 21 Savage’s ability to express a variety of feelings allows the music to stand out at times and become more than a generic gangsta rap presentation. It’s unfortunate, then, that the record finds itself held back by unfeeling and monotonous takes on issues like gun violence. Overall, i am > i was is a mixed bag of experience that offers enough solid tracks to keep fans latched on.

Essential Tracks: “a lot”, “all my friends”, and “letter 2 my momma”

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