Review Summary: Young savage you look so old
“I am better than I was”. A bold and blunt statement from Mr. Savage. As appearance goes he may be right; you don’t see him double cupping up on XXL or engaging in celebrity nonsense anymore. Instead, we now see a top-notch young man leading a new generation by example with talks of sensible investing and the swearing off of splashing cash on jewellery. But musically, where we at? Is IA>IW really a proven personal equation or a deliberate papering over of being associated with the young, dumb, social-media flexing industry lackeys dominating mainstream hip-hop today?
Well, first things first, IA>IW is gangster as ***. Highlights “Break Da Law” and “Gun Smoke” are despicably violent; both loaded with buzzing trap beats while the latter wields rather nasty bars like: “Who want cancer? I’m giving out smoke”. Crikey. Furthermore, perpetuating throughout IA>IW is 21’s trademark cold-blooded and soft but oh-so-evil vocals - sounding as if he spends his downtime hitting green with the lads over at Draco-reptilian high command. Occasionally he channels these murderous vibes into menacing whispers; most notably on “ASMR”. This added edge pushes 21’s style into a mire of aggressive authenticity his contemporaries only wish they could find.
Has 21 really progressed though? Is he really, or will he ever be, an improvement upon his previous existences? On the surface it would seem no as thematically 21 still primarily delves into gangs, guns and 12 car garages (excluding the endearing 2Pac Hey Mama moment on “letter 2 my momma”), however, there is a hint of refinement this time. The flows are more tight and animated and the production while simple is remarkably considered, used only to rip out the desired lyrical vibe of each song. Take opener, “A Lot”, which details the various stresses of 21’s gangbanger-turned-rapstar upswing. The beat is soaked with soulful sampling, giving a vintage feel that accompanies 21’s reminiscing quite nicely. What’s more is 21’s choice not to oversaturate the whole thing, keeping each of the 15 tracks at around the 2 and a half minute mark, unlike his commercial rappity trap contemporaries who seem incessant in their attempts to edge runtimes closer and closer to matching a Lil B-esque lunacy.
Say what you want about the old 21, but 21 V2 has gained himself a whole load of friends who thinks he’s swell. Nearly every song here contains a high-profile feature. Offset takes a break from his bouquet-wielding, stage-invading, solo album release evading nonsense to smash out a garbled yet sharp auto tuned blast on “1.5”. Post Malone jumps on “All My Friends” with a fairly straightforward hook, but my god (as 21 would say! ahaaaAAA!) does it cut slick through the track’s warm and bassy atmosphere. Vocally the pairing is a fine example of contrast comes chemistry. However, it’s J. Cole who grabs it with a most warm and thoughtful verse on “A Lot” – this guy has been killing features since his K.O.D. horror show.
Of course, IA>IW is not without its misfires. “Out For The Night” appears as some strange, pointless tribute to that godawful Drake “Sicko Mode” verse while “can’t leave without it” guiltily spills out the unfortunate mess that is Lil Baby and Gunna. Beyond these minor gripes lies the main and obvious worry that as much as 21 has improved on himself, he still remains himself. Outside of a much-needed tune-up 21 hasn’t exactly made a leap into the unknown. Of course, for the most part, this can be put down to the limits of his genre and perhaps his own raw talent, but still, he would need to shake-up things up rather vigorously to evade the affliction of stagnancy. But for those who like it gangster, bang this down your headphones and relive those memories of hammering the swear button on your rental copy of 50 cent: blood on the sand. I promise you’ll enjoy it.