21 Savage’s 10 Biggest Surprises of 2017

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Let’s hear it for 21 Savage. The Atlanta rapper with a flat voice and a heavy sound turned himself into an outside contender for 2017’s artist of the year by releasing plenty of strong music and revealing himself to be an vital voice in the cultural conversation. Going back to 2015’s Slaughter Gang, Savage has been dismissed as an overly dark mumble rapper, and while such slander is inadmissible in any court where the judge has ears, this year he seemed to want to prove himself on another level.

What was surprising about 21 Savage’s 2017 was not that he proved how adept he really is, it’s that he didn’t stay in his lane and keep doing what he’s always done. Instead he widened the breadth of his work, addressed the criticisms of his music, and added his perspective to some of the larger social issues in America.

Below are the ten things that 21 Savage did in 2017 that we definitely weren’t expecting.

10. That Crazy Chain

Straight up, the chain with Savage’s head on one side and Jason Voorhees on the other is both terrifying and dazzling. Chains have gotten boring lately and while this isn’t anywhere near Gucci Mane Frosted Flakes level, with more joints like this one, lord willing, we’ll get there.

9. Withholding Savage Mode 2

What the fuck? Where is Savage Mode 2? By now we’d expected to hear the sequel to Savage Mode, a minor classic that is still Savage’s most indelible project and one long dumb-out with Metro Boomin.

8. The Undeniability of Without Warning

After the mixed response on the actually-good Issa Album, 21 Savage could have licked his wounds. Instead he came back strong on Without Warning, his mixtape with Metro Boomin and Offset. All three of them had great individual years, and this was the rare super team-up that made perfect sonic sense.

7. Weighing in on Rap’s Generation Gap

Writing on Twitter on behalf of those just younger than him, Savage thoughtfully added to the conversation about rap’s generational divide, one of the key stories this year. His thesis was that Gen Z is experiencing the problems (particularly drug addiction) that their parents went through, but refracted. He continued that the gap is bridgeable if you try and see yourself from a different angle. That he chose to write this message on Notepad showed he cared enough to compose his thoughts on the issue and wasn’t just impulse-tweeting.

6. Going the DJ Mustard Route on “FaceTime”

People hated on this song, but if Future had made it, it would have killed. Just because we couldn’t envision 21 making a hedonistic club ballad, that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t didn’t work.

 5. Going conscious on “Nothin New”

Critics say Savage’s music is unconscionably violent, but did they really listen to “Nothin New,” his song about growing up in a racist, hostile police state, where PTSD is passed down through generations?

4. Producing the hit “Bank Account”

We didn’t know 21 could produce, but the skeletal, slamming “Bank Account” wasn’t just good, it was an album cut that unexpectedly took off as a hit. “Bank Account” was further bolstered by a great video, both longish and conceptual, and featuring Mike Epps in fine form.

3. The underrated Issa Album

Straight up, critics hated on Issa! The hipsterati wanted 21 Savage to fail, and he didn’t. But they still tried to say he did.

2. Love, PDA, & Amber Rose

Maybe it was just some rap gossip shit or even lowkey album promo, but 21 Savage hooking up with Amber Rose felt like something: A rapper with some of the toughest, gnarliest street songs out there, now holding hands, snuggling, and showing his soft side was a win for three-dimensionality.

1. “I’m a Hoe Too”

21 Savage came out as a hoe at his gf Amber Rose’s Slutwalk at the start of October, daring us to rethink sexual double standards. He caught hell for the move on social media, but he didn’t back down.