Favorite Song: "Rich N***a Shit" Least Favorite Track: "No Opp Left Behind"
“Are things better or worse the second time around?” This question is stoically posed by smoky-voiced narrator Morgan Freeman on the new collaborative effort from 21 Savage and Metro Boomin, Savage Mode II. The infamous cliche of the sequel slump is something that many artists have struggled with, no matter the medium. With the cliche however, it becomes increasingly impressive when said artist surpasses these expectations with flying colors. In the case of Savage Mode II, I was hoping for and expecting an upgrade from 2016’s Savage Mode, as 21 Savage has made plenty of progress as an artist since then. His 2018 solo effort i am > i was was a noticeable improvement from the sleep-inducing trap of Savage Mode and the bulk of 2017’s Issa Album, showing more emotional maturity and vulnerability as well as better production across the board. With these improvements though, the pressure on 21 Savage was increased.
Thankfully, Savage Mode II is everything I wanted from 21 Savage and more, setting itself apart from its predecessor with bombastic and aggressive production and more energetic and engaging flows. The improvement from the first installment is like night and day. Where the original fell flat with a lack of versatility and boring beats, Savage Mode II puts forth some of the most potent cuts 21 Savage has concocted in his career thus far. The album also manages to feel more cohesive, aided by the narration of Morgan Freeman, occasionally popping in and offering small quips in relation to the tracks. “Snitches and Rats (Interlude)” is his shining moment, offering a tongue-in-cheek, badass lesson in street code. The themes of gang violence are still as present as ever, but feel more genuine and surprisingly mature due to the storytelling of “My Dawg” and “RIP Luv”. The instrumentation from Metro Boomin across the project is also significantly improved compared to Savage Mode and many instances on 2018’s NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES”. He manages to create some of the most instrumentally complex compositions of his career on “Glock In My Lap” as well, where ominous piano chords followed by some genuinely scary and harrowing strings later in the track melt together with 21’s murderous lyrics seamlessly. This cut is aggressive while still remaining sleek, which becomes a common theme across Savage Mode II.
In general, 21’s technical rapping skills are also heavily improved across Savage Mode II. His flow switches and cadence are creative and in the pocket, and I love the majority of the eccentric choruses across the project as well. “Rich N***a Shit” is spacy as hell, and not a track I would have ever seen 21 pulling off. The beat is sweet and smooth, immersing you in a bed of dreamy synths and subtly funk-filled bass licks. 21’s chorus is catchy and addictive, and the track also features a home run feature from Young Thug. “Runnin” is aggressive, featuring a pitch-shifted Diana Ross sample. The thumping 808’s are wonderfully complimented by 21’s quick-fire flow, which matches quite well with the hi-hat pattern on this track. “Mr Right Now” is a quick-wit sex anthem, with a super fun high pitched beat. 21 Savage’s comedic bars across the song bring a lot of personality to the first half, but it is unfortunately sapped of a lot of that personality due to a mind-numbing Drake feature on the back half. Nonetheless, it’s a decent cut that is probably the most danceable of the bunch.
Surprisingly enough, there really aren’t too many spots Savage Mode II manages to disappoint in any capacity, and even when it does the duds aren’t unbearable. Despite being my least favorite track on the record, “No Opp Left Behind” still manages to bring a few decent bars and some bearable production despite the aggressively bad snare patch on the track. “Brand New Draco” is probably the most generic trap song on the record, not really doing anything to add to the already long tracklist. I’m not particularly fond of the beat here, as it sounds like something we have heard at least 20 times from Metro being rehashed. Finally, “Steppin On N***as” is a little cheesy, trying to be a cheeky throwback but failing due to some basic horns and go-go bells and a pretty lackluster performance from 21. I will give the track credit for coming through with a pretty badass scratch DJ solo at the end though, a nice touch that saves the track from being overtly boring.
While trap has never been as rewarding to close listeners as something like Progressive Rock or a good Singer-Songwriter record, there is something to be said for the simplicity of a lyrically basic song that still manages to be fun. We saw the massive success of Playboi Carti’s Die Lit, lauding unanimous critical acclaim despite its simplicity and unoriginal lyricism. This oddly satisfying concoction is only enhanced with the detailed storytelling from 21 Savage on “My Dawg” and “RIP Luv”, and is pulled together wonderfully as a cohesive project with the narration from Morgan Freeman. While I personally enjoyed the original installment of Savage Mode at large, the flaws of the project remained clear. The beats were relatively generic and the sleepy flows and lyrics could easily become grating to the wrong listener. While Savage Mode installed 21 Savage and Metro Boomin as key faces to watch in the trap scene, Savage Mode II uses the massive success of its predecessor to showcase the genuine artistic talent the two so clearly possess.