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21 Savage On 'Issa Album,' Jay-Z, & Business
At this point in the rich history of rap music, it's abundantly clear that there are many styles of the art form, with many more yet to be explored. The through-line is that successful rappers seem most confident at being one thing: themselves.
Enter 21 Savage. The Atlanta-based chartbuster with two No. 1 singles already, and a style — and swagger — all his own has been the man in-demand this year. Basically, if you haven't heard "Bank Account," or any one of Savage's collab hits with Drake, Post Malone or Future, you haven't been listening.
His debut full-length, Issa Album, just dropped in July, and it's all Savage — no features, no guests. But the rapper downplays this bold statement of standing on his own. "The way I look at it, it's just new music," Savage said of his latest release during a recent visit to the Recording Academy headquarters.
Issa Album also had the distinct pleasure — or perhaps challenge — of dropping the same day as Jay-Z's 4:44. Going toe-to-toe with Hova like that could not have been easy, but certain high-profile fans such as Los Angeles Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball gave 21 the edge. Ball said, "21 Savage's [album] is bumping more" than Jay's, causing quite the storm of reactions from the hip-hop and sports worlds. Savage's reaction to Ball's bold claim? Simple.
"That's how he feels, that's what it is. He likes it, that's his opinion."
But make no mistake, the young rapper has plenty of respect for Jay-Z.
"He grows, his music grows with him," Savage says of Jay-Z's ability to stay relevant. "He ain't just rapping about the same thing he was rapping about when he first came out, so that's what keeps it interesting, because as he grows as a man and does more stuff business-wise, he applies that to the music, so that's why I think he's been able to grow like that and stay around."
The album's first hit is also 21 Savage's biggest to date, "Bank Account." According to him, the process in the studio was a straightforward one.
"[Producer] Metro [Boomin] helped me make the beat and then he pulled it up and I started recording."
Savage and Metro have come up together, and both have become highly sought-after collaborators. Forbes recently even went as far as to suggest Metro might be "the next big star in hip-hop."
The raw bravado and fierce individuality behind 21 Savage's music has also helped him out on the business side. The deal he leveraged is remarkable, as he was able to stay independent with his label Slaughter Gang while landing distribution with Epic Records and keeping 100 percent ownership of his masters.
"I just go in with my best interest at heart," Savage says of the unprecedented terms he secured. "We went back and forth until we could get it to where I was comfortable. That's just the way it goes."
A native of Atlanta, Savage is quick to name his top five ATL rappers in the game right now: Future, Young Thug, Gucci Mane, Migos, and Young Nudy. But Savage's style stands out, reinforcing his philosophy.
"I feel like the game just don't respect us like they're supposed to. Y'all want everyone in the rap game to rap like each other," Savage told Genius. "Respect all the music the same, just because a n***** is not lyrical, that doesn't mean that it's not a good song, or it's not good music. If everybody was lyrical, everybody's songs would sound the same."
This philosophy on hip-hop opens the door for 21 Savage to go anywhere he wants from here. His next move takes him on a 22-city U.S. tour that starts Nov. 16 in Austin, Texas, and includes an appearance at the first ever Rolling Loud Festival in San Bernardino, Calif. alongside Future, Lil Uzi Vert, and Rae Sremmurd.
While Savage’s lasting impact on rap remains in the balance, his infectious shot of success this year is undeniable.