Despite it being nearly five years since 21 Savage released his last solo album, he has never strayed far from the spotlight in that time. This could be a result of the ridiculous feature run he has been on the last few years on what feels like every album that comes out. Or it could be because of his massively successful collaborative albums, such as 2020’s “Savage Mode 2” with producer Metro Boomin’, or 2022’s “Her Loss,” a partnership with Drake. It could also be because of what 21 gets up to outside of music, most notably his 2019 arrest, due to the fact that he was essentially an illegal immigrant, having moved to the United States from England nearly 20 years ago while having no documentation for a majority of that time.
This whole situation was seemingly the inspiration for his new album, titled “American Dream.” For the first time since 2018, 21 is back in the saddle, and throughout the album, it is clear that 21 and only 21 was in control of the creative choices. Sometimes this leads to moments that although unexpected, definitely work, and are worth the risk. However, these chances often fall flat, resulting in songs that are not necessarily bad, but just not what anyone wants to hear from 21.
The album begins with a spoken-word intro from 21 Savage’s mother, with her discussing the risks they took that allowed 21 to be who he is, presumably referring to their decision to immigrate to the U.S., or even to the struggles that they faced well after moving. In the next song, titled “All of Me,” 21 dives right into those struggles in traditional 21 fashion, giving an extremely detailed look into what he’s been through, which, according to him involved a lot of violence, murder and loss. The next song, “redrum” (“murder” backward), sees 21 go even further into these topics. On the hook, Savage continuously repeats the line “G block, all we know is redrum,” implying that where he grew up, murder and violence were normal, if not necessary in order to make it out, a stark contrast to the idea of the American dream.
Savage switches up his energy on the next few songs, starting with “n.h.i.e.,” with an unexpected feature from Doja Cat. Although he sings about similar subject matter to the last few songs, sonically this is a different 21 Savage than ever before, giving his most melodic performance to date, and a beautiful one at that. This song is one of the album’s many highlights and an example of what 21 is capable of when he goes out of his comfort zone. He takes a similar R&B route on a three-track run later in the album with the songs “see the real,” “prove it” and “should’ve worn a bonnet,” with the latter two featuring Summer Walker and Brent Faiyaz, respectively. These songs and others scattered throughout the album also see 21 in his melodic bag, a side of him that certainly needs to come out more often.
Other gems include the handful of Metro-produced songs, and despite how great 21 has sounded on other types of instrumentals, this is his bread and butter, and 21 at his very best. In the modern rap landscape, it is hard to find someone better than 21 on a Metro beat. The chemistry between the two is just too strong, and when they work together they are able to create a sound that just cannot be replicated, no matter how hard someone may try. Examples on the album include the songs “nee-nah” with Travis Scott and “pop ur shit” with Young Thug.
Despite how far all of the artists have come in their careers and all their success, the Atlanta trap songs are the ones that made them who they are, and on these songs, it is very clear that they have not lost a step. The standout track on the album, however, is the song “letter to my brudda.” Over a relaxed sample-based beat and a piano melody, 21 goes for nearly three minutes straight, mostly discussing his longtime friend and collaborator Young Thug and his current situation. Thug and a collection of his labelmates are involved in an ongoing RICO case, alleging that Thug’s music label is in fact a violent gang. 21 provides his perspective on the situation, and what it is like to watch his friend have his freedom ripped away from him. He also touches on Gunna’s role in the situation, which involved the rapper, a former collaborator of both 21 and Young Thug, seemingly ratting on Thug and his labelmates for his own benefit, something 21 makes clear he disapproves of.
On the track, 21 lays all his thoughts and emotions out there, not holding a single thing back. In fact, being brutally honest and real is what attracts people to 21 and his music. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything, which may be gruesome at times, but at the end of the day, it allows him to paint a picture that not many others can replicate. So even though the style of his music may change a little bit, the sincerity of his music has never faltered, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to anytime soon.