I’m going to start off this review with a bold statement: Atlanta trap-rapper 21 Savage and producer Metro Boomin are currently the best duo in hip-hop. It’s a lofty statement to make, especially given that the prestigious Run The Jewels released one of the best albums of the year and brothers No Malice and Pusha T of Clipse recently re-emerged as a feature on Kanye West’s “Jesus Is King.”
But none of these aforementioned pairings match the type of menacing melodies that have proven to be 21 Savage and Metro Boomin’s calling card. 2016’s EP “Savage Mode” pushed both artists into the national limelight. Charting at No. 23 on the Billboard 200 and featuring double platinum smash-hit “X (feat. Future),” ''Savage Mode” was as visceral as the name implies, with 21 Savage delivering relentlessly cold-hearted barbs alongside Metro Boomin’s grim trap production.
Since their breakout EP, 21 Savage and Metro Boomin have served as frequent collaborators — whether it be through singles such as the quadruple platinum hit “Bank Account” or another collaboration project alongside Migos member Offset on “Without Warning” in 2017. Rumors floating around the release for a sequel to the 2016 underground classic continued to fluctuate until Metro Boomin tweeted the cover for the long-awaited release on Sept. 29, announcing the project would be released Oct. 2.
Under the pressure of unruly hype and anticipation, “SAVAGE MODE II” delivers a proper, grimy sequel that develops upon the lyricism which the first release was praised for. Despite some lowlights in hook writing and 21 Savage’s tendency to be a bit too lax in his cadence, “SAVAGE MODE II” is a great listen for hip-hop connoisseurs.
One of the best aspects of “SAVAGE MODE II” is how it serves as a love letter to Southern hip-hop both visually and musically. The album’s artwork is created by the legendary Houston design firm Pen & Pixel Graphics, whom Metro Boomin said came out of retirement to curate the album’s striking artwork. Metro Boomin incorporates twangy symphonic strings on tracks like “Rich N**** Shit” and “Many Men.” In another nod to Southern hip-hop, the album goes full Miami bass — a southern staple hip hop subgenre incorporating up-tempo drums, killer 808s and thumping sustained kick drums — by sampling Rodney O and Joe Cooley’s “Everlasting Bass” on “Steppin on N*****.”
Another standout feature of “SAVAGE MODE II” is its unlikely narration provided by Morgan Freeman. Freeman’s signature voice serves as monologues for thematic composition in “SAVAGE MODE II.” Defining the phrase “savage mode,” Freeman states in the album’s trailer, “Savage is defined as fierce, beastly and untamed. Mode is defined as a way of operating or using a system. So to be in savage mode is to go hard, not allowing anything to stop or deter you from your mission. Basically, this means if someone is in savage mode, they're not to be f***** with."
Freeman’s features on eight of the album’s 15 songs is one of the greatest strengths of “SAVAGE MODE II.” Every time he appears on a track, I couldn’t avoid feeling a mixture of giddy joy and enrapturing shock. Freeman delivers quote after quote on the mentality of a killer and the inner workings of criminal culture. Freeman’s best monologue is on “Snitches & Rats (Interlude).” Freeman details how snitches sell their information for compensation and rats are traitors who betray the trust of their family to save themselves. As Freeman so eloquently puts it, “The difference is, at least a snitch is human, but a rat is a f***** rat, period."
These amusing qualities in the production and narration almost distract one from the fact that 21 Savage’s lyrical material remains equally as foreboding as always. 21 Savage meddles in madness, detailing his life in crime, the deaths he’s seen and that, even though he’s attempting to put his past behind him, his enemies continue to trace his every move.
21 Savage delivers his best performance on “Many Men.” The track samples the 50 Cent song of the same name and serves as an homage to the rap legend. 21 Savage interpolates 50 Cent’s original chorus by stating “Many men wanna kill me, dawg, I feel like 50,” as he details all of the violent crimes he’s seen and committed. It’s a head-bopping track and showcases 21 Savage at his most active. While 21 Savage takes a chill, blase approach to his cadence on most of the album’s tracks, “Many Men” switches up 21 Savage’s rhyme scheme as he utilizes rapid-fire triplets and pointed remarks to those who wish death upon him.
Another standout track is “Mr. Right Now (feat. Drake).” It’s a bit trashy lyrically, as 21 Savage and Drake exchange raps detailing the sexual prowess of their female partners, but the hypnotizing production by Metro Boomin keeps the track feeling alive. The closed hi-hat keeps your head bobbing, and the reversed synth melody feels otherworldly. Drake also adds a rejuvenating feature, but he delivers an embarrassing bar stating that he used to date R&B star SZA in 2008, and, if she’s still cool with him, he would like to spend some time with her. Nonetheless, the track remains a lively and clubbable jam.
Where “SAVAGE MODE II” falls off is in the chorus structure. Multiple tracks feature weak, one-note choruses that detract from the overall product. On “Runnin,” the chorus is simply the word “runnin’” repeated 24 times. “Glock In My Lap’s” chorus features forced rhyme after forced rhyme, with 21 Savage even dropping a cringey bar comparing the Chuck E. Cheese rat to street rats. “Brand New Draco” has 21 Savage rhyming “down” with “down” four times.
It’s unfortunate the choruses can’t capitalize on the same menacing tonality established in the verses. In spite of these faults, the overall product of “SAVAGE MODE II” is rather outstanding. The album takes its time applying layers upon layers of bumping trap production with near-perfect complementation from 21 Savage’s cruel lyrics. It’s yet another example of the best duo in hip-hop’s reign of fame, and it is a fantastic love letter to the Southern hip-hop scene that inspired them.