21 Savage’s journey over the last few years has been rather fascinating to watch. I remember watching his iconic 2016 XXL Freshman Cypher with Kodak Black, Lil Uzi, Denzel Curry, and Lil Yachty thinking, “this guy is funny but kind of strange and seems mediocre.”
Having listened to all of his albums and mixtapes since that cypher, I can say without a doubt 21 Savage is one of the top trap artists and has grown tremendously since his early XXL days. His first project with Metro Boomin called Savage Mode had some excellent tracks on it such as the absolute OG banger “No Heart” or the smooth trap sound of “X” with fellow Atlanta rapper Future. Issa Album and his collaboration album with Metro and Offset Without Warning were both overall improvements for 21 and displayed his growth in both lyrics and diversity in sound.
I am > I was immediately reminded me of Issa Album in its production and song types. Both albums are fairly evenly split between hard trap bangers and more melodic trap songs. Songs like “all my friends” and “a lot” are very radio friendly and have well known artists featuring like J Cole and Post Malone. “ball w/o you” and “letter 2 my momma” are excellent melodic songs that talk about heartbreak, his family life, and his upbringing and divide up the heavier tracks to make a single listen through more manageable. Of course, the highlight of the album are the hard ATL trap songs “gun smoke”, “4L”, and “good day”. Heavy bass, an interesting melody instrument or sound, and gangster lyrics are all classic 21 Savage and make this album memorable when it falls flat in other elements.
The features on the album range from best verse of the year with J Cole on “a lot” to literal garbage on “a&t”. J Cole brought his A game for 21 and delivered one of the best single verses I heard from him all year. Childish Gambino’s guest verse on “monster” was another classic, instantly elevating the song to become on of the best on the album with a great, somewhat sinister hook. On the other end of the spectrum, I cannot describe how horrendous Yung Miami’s verse on “a&t” was, whoever she is. “a&t” is quite possibly the worst song of 2018 and the feature is EASILY the worst. If you like abusing your ears for almost four minutes at a time, maybe you’d like it.
21’s flow and lyrics are much improved from Savage Mode and some of the flows even carry what would be otherwise lackluster songs such as “1.5” or “out for the night”. The rhyme scheme on the hook off “4L” is the most memorable part of I am > I was, making me want to rap along to its catchy lyrics and beat. One of the main complaints I had with 21’s old songs was that it was nearly impossible to relisten to his music due to its simplicity and lack of catchy parts. This is where he now shines on I am > I was, making me excited for his future albums and music.
While it lacks any truly great songs, I am > I was is the most complete 21 Savage album to date. Despite some extreme lows at parts like “a&t” or “asmr”, the overall good consistency in sound, lyrics, flow, and features make this worth a listen and will have songs that will stay on rotation for a while. How many times will I listen to this album? A lot.