21 Savage – american dream
Gavin Montgomery January 22, 2024
By: Gavin Montgomery
Back in 2016 when 21 Savage was being interviewed alongside fellow rappers Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yatchy, Kodak Black, and Denzel Curry for that year’s XXL freshman cover, he stated, “I make murder music.” Since then, 21 has dropped two solo projects (2016’s ISSA Album and 2018’s I am>I was), as well as a slew of collab albums with famed producer Metro Boomin in 2016’s “Savage Mode”, 2017’s “Without Warning”, and 2020’s “Savage Mode II”, and finally, yet another collaborative album with Drake in 2022 in “Her Loss”. Which brings us to 21’s most recent solo venture (and his first in 6 years), “American Dream”.
The phrase “I make murder music” has become synonymous with 21 Savage and the image he often portrays within his sound – and that serves no exception through “American Dream”. With this however, the album is ceremoniously bisected through tracks 1-9 and tracks 10-15 in terms of the overall soundscape and message contents of the project, whereas, the first 9 tracks of the LP contain very dark and ominous trap production (typically spearheaded via Metro Boomin), and the back half having a far more RNB/Hip-Hop infused feel incorporating features from that world such as Mariah the Scientist, Brent Fiayz, Summer Walker, among others.
Past the intro where a woman speaks of what it means to live the American dream, The first track All of me provides a very menacing sound, with a vocal sample loop etched between the 808’s and hi hats of the track. All of me stylistically sounds very reminiscent of the production found on “Savage Mode II”, specifically the single Runnin off that project. With this however, 21 fails to say much of substance across the runtime of the track, with very stereotypical bars about “his choppa”, women in his life, and violence – a common theme throughout the first half of this project. Further, we arrive at RedRum next, where much of the same could be said. While the intro to the song is intriguing, with an ambient flute being played alongside a choir of strings – something that sounds as if it would’ve came from an old timey film – the instrumental suddenly flips and is reversed into another haunting trap beat, which sounds nice – yet 21 Savage fails to say anything of substance again across the tracks entire 4:30 runtime. However, the intent of this song is to become a clear cut hit, and while it sounds very generic at times, it succeeds in doing so, as the hook of 21 repeatedly chanting the phrase “All we know is redrum” is catchy in its own right.
Next comes the project’s first feature in critically acclaimed pop/rap star Doja Cat via the song “N.H.I.E”. Once again, the production is very nice, as 21’s deep vocal tones of him repeating the phrase “Hell nah” over Doja’s higher pitched signature ad libs creates for a well mixed blend of both their own respective styles. Past that however, the track does little to capture my attention – where we hear 21 Savage continuously brag about his plaques, streaming numbers, and diamonds. The Doja Cat feature is very short, (running only about 30 seconds long) and does little to save the song aside from its very dream-like production.
The tracks pop ur s**t (featuring Young Thug), nee-nah (Featuring Travis Scott), and dangerous (Featuring Lil Durk) are all very clear attempts to become trap bangers with a bulk of features and production from Metro Boomin that would be found playing in every club – however, one thing that all these songs lack is variety. Pop ur s**t is fairly forgettable, as 21 Savage fails to provide much substance through his verse once again, and the hook is simply him repeating the phrase “pop ur s**t” which isn’t very creative in its own right. Young Thug provides a verse where he employs a very fun flow throughout it, but unfortunately, it isn’t enough to add any extra flair to the track, something it desperately needs. The most exciting part of the track is on the last leg of it, where Thug provides us with some of his very estranged and high pitched vocals, yet even this can’t save the song all too much. The track Dangerous is a similar story, where 21 gives yet another generic verse, over similar production. When Lil Durk comes in, his verse begins a little rough-like, as there is a clear disconnect sonically between his and 21 Savage’s voice, but he also employs a half-decent flow throughout his section. Lastly is nee-nah with Travis Scott, which is my personal favorite of the three – mostly because Travis actually does something interesting with his verse. The production on this track is slower than the rest of the track, but Travis rides it masterfully as his voice mends well with the tone of the song, yet 21 Savage comes in and gives yet another substandard performance with his. Side note: I understand that it’s a 21 Savage album, and that I shouldn’t be expecting Kendrick Lamar or MF DOOM levels of rapping, however, I believe the main issue with the beginning half of this project is that many of the 21 Savage verses on these songs could be swapped for each other, and it wouldn’t make any difference to the overall structure of any of the individual songs. Instead of crafting tracks with their own individual themes, each song sounds like a copy of the other, and 21 does little to push the envelope in any sort of way. The same could be said for the track sneaky. See the real see’s 21 Savage try his hand at singing via auto-tune and it simply does not work.
With that being said however, the track letter to my brudda fairs quite differently from the general theme of money, guns and women that 21 Savage has set forward thus far. Opposed to the generic murderous production choices of the previous tracks, Letter to my brudda employs a very Kanye-esque chipmunk vocal loop, wherein, 21 tells the story of how the gang life that he portrays in his music has real effects on his personal life, and gives the background behind his best friend Jonny, who died in gunfire years before. The track is a rare sentimental moment on the album, and particularly stands out amongst the sludge of repetitive tracks that 21 has laid out.
While being a little earlier in the track list, Letter to my Brudda is a tad more showing of what is expected to come on the back half of the album – where 21 trades out the dark trap beats for a blend of Rap/RNB. This shift sonically begins with track 11, in Prove it featuring Summer Walker. The production found on this cut is far more upbeat and, for lack of a better word, happy. Mostly, it’s an odd pairing, but I applaud 21 for trying something new. Summer’s hook that she provides is smooth and angelic. Should’ve worn a Bonnet featuring Brent Fiayz is similarly vibey. The production on this track is fantastic and contains one of the best hooks on the project, as 21 begins rapping the intro, and his voice simultaneously begins to blend into Fiayz’s masterfully. The verses 21 lays down are the most boring part about the track, however it’s easier to overlook amongst the talent put on display by Fiayz.
This leads into the final three tracks, which all fill a similar soundscape in Just Like Me, Red Sky and Dark Days. Just Like Me employs a far more pop-oriented sound to it, as feature Burna Boy provides a smooth and jazzy hook. 21 begins his verse and is actually able to keep on topic for the most part, as he tells the story of a dysfunctional relationship with a woman that he is a part of, yet, only to find out that the girl is just like him by the end of the track. It’s a melodic and groovy cut that stands out largely from the rest of the track list
. Red Sky begins with a similarly beautiful intro sung by feature Tommy Newport that transitions into the beat drop of the song/21’s verse amazingly. The contrast in their two voices works very well together, and while the track isn’t about much – it is still cool to see 21 trying new things on this track. Finally, the closer of the album Dark Days is what I believe to be the best part of the album. The track utilizes a very slow and drowned out/depressive backing instrumental, however, this production choice works greatly with the subject matter of 21’s verse, as he introspectively looks back upon his career and how he got to where he is today, beginning, “I finally got the fame and fortune that I prayed for//Who would have thought that I’d be the one to emerge amidst all the gun smoke?”. 21 Savage has been in the game now for nearly a decade, and while he is still wildly popular, he takes this track as an opportunity to give advice to all of his listeners who want what he has, yet overlook the hardships it took for him to get here, “I know it might sound lame but just stay in school//They got a place that they’ll put people who don’t follow rules”. The song is also a rare message that while 21 does talk about gangs and violence frequently, he acknowledges the very real dangers when acting within that lifestyle first hand. As for the feature in Maraiah The Scientist, she does a fantastic job with her part on the hook – equally angelic as it is concerning given the subject matter of what it is she is singing.
All in all, American Dream by 21 Savage is a mixed bag, belittled with an overreliance on what works best and a tendency of sticking to the same formula that has brought 21 Savage fame, while having few moments where he shines in crafting something new.
BEST SONG: DARK DAYS, RED SKY, SHOULD’VE WORN A BONNET
WORST SONG: SEE THE REAL, N.I.H.E