Review: ‘I Am > I Was’ by 21 Savage

The young Atlanta trap rapper shows a more mature, emotional, and introspective side of himself on his latest album

My relationship to 21 Savage’s music is an interesting one — to me at least. When I first heard his music, back in 2016, I saw very little appeal in it, personally. But as time as progressed, the ATLien’s music has grown on me. It was definitely a slow burn, as it’s really taken me up till now, a little over a month after the release of his latest album, to genuinely see 21 Savage’s appeal as an artist and finally gain real interest in what he’s doing.

I actually listened to the ATLien’s latest album the weekend that it dropped, but due to being drained by the musical avalanche known as 2018, it was more of a passive experience than an active one. And so the album was little more than background noise to me; I couldn’t recall a single song title, much less a single lyric.

As 2019 has picked up steam, with great releases from artists like Dawn Richard and James Blake, and as I’ve had time to regain the energy and enthusiasm to listen to new music, I felt compelled to revisit Savage’s album and give it a proper chance. Since I couldn’t recall much from that weekend that it dropped, I was essentially hearing for the first time.

Long story short: I Am > I Was is a pleasant surprise. Not that I thought that it was going to be a “bad” album, but given my personal history with the artist’s music, I didn’t expect to enjoy it this much.

21 Savage is, quite accurately, greater than he was, as he delivers what most consider to be his best solo effort of his career.

What immediately jumps out is the relative shift in tone, as well as a somewhat more focused effort on improving his skills as an emcee. Make no mistake, Savage’s lyrics are still as violent and cold-blooded as ever, but his latest work also gives listeners a glimpse into the more introspective and emotional sides of his persona, like “ball w/o you” and “letter 2 my momma,” and the J. Cole-assisted “a lot.”

His lackadaisical delivery, which was off-putting to me just a couple of years ago, seems to be one of his most unique features as an artist. And while he isn’t in the upper echelon of lyrical talents, it would be a mistake to let that distract from some very emotional, memorable, and even comedic moments of this album.

I think what I enjoyed the most about I Am > I Was was simply marveling at Savage’s artistic growth. It’s easy, especially in the era of endless music releases, to lose sight of what recording artists do to push boundaries and grow in their craft, especially when we’re bombarded with tidal waves of music from artists who don’t seem to be interested in the slightest in shaking things up (*cough* Future *cough*). Nevertheless, 21 Savage takes strides to be a little bit more than the stereotypical trap rapper, and his efforts pay off.

Enjoy I Am > I Was below.

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