After building anticipation with a handful of self-released EPs and mixtapes, Atlanta-based rapper 21 Savage delivered his official major-label debut, Issa Album. The full-length trap effort featured production from the scene's most in-demand names, like Metro Boomin, Zaytoven, DJ Mustard, and Southside, whose hypnotic atmospherics provided an apt backdrop to Savage's bleak and hedonistic lyrics. Sex, drugs, street violence, and money are the typical themes, with the occasional introspection peppered in to balance the debauched with rare glimpses into his state of mind. More intense and serious than contemporaries like Lil Uzi Vert and Migos, Savage chronicles his rise to fame on "Famous" before getting grim on the dark "Close My Eyes" and "Dead People," where he raps "Percocets got me in my feelings" and then confesses "I've been drinking syrup/Seeing demons." The somber mood is seldom shaken, but when Savage switches subjects, it helps to elevate Issa above the generic. He opens up to heartbreak on the En Vogue-sampling "Thug Life" and professes love on "Special." On the Metro Boomin/Zaytoven collaboration "Nothin' New," he spits a socially conscious game that provides the most lyrical substance on Issa. While Young Thug appears on "Whole Lot," his presence isn't noticeable enough to warrant the lone feature on Issa. Surprisingly, the most interesting track on the album comes at the close. "7 Min Freestyle" proves that, left to his own devices, Savage has just enough skill to back up all his boasts. It's a satisfying moment on an effort packed with tracks that are occasionally indistinguishable from one to the next. Overall, Issa is a competent statement that demonstrates promise from the young rapper.
AllMusic Review by Neil Z. Yeung
feat: En Vogue