Savage Mode plays out like a low-budget horror film. An indie production in nine scenes filled with bleak raps detailing the horrors of East Atlanta through the sometimes-sociopathic mind of 21 Savage. Forever strapped with an arsenal of weapons, and a tattoo of a knife on his forehead to show for it, the latest Boogeyman out of East Atlanta emerged.
It’s a minimalistic body of work, down to the hollowness in 21 Savage’s voice. Metro’s production on Savage Mode is eerie and spacey, occupying vacancies in between each of Savage’s bars with suspense and analog static. Eerie flutes and murderous 808s become the score to Savage’s journey for money and power. They’ve attained both yet there’s still a hunger for more. In the years since they initially joined forces, they’ve dropped critically acclaimed solo efforts with Grammys and multiple accolades that followed.
Savage Mode 2, the glossy follow-up to their grainy 2016 cult classic, builds off of the bleak atmosphere that was created on the first installment, transforming it into a major motion picture event with eye-popping artwork and Hollywood star-power. This was evident immediately when the cinematic trailer used to announce the project was narrated by Morgan Freeman, who also extends his talents throughout the project’s skits.
Savage Mode 2 kicks off with a monumental introduction to 21 and Metro’s return. Freeman’s calming vocals juxtapose the anxiety-inducing piano loop, bringing the same sense of urgency as an opening scene of a 90s action-suspense “Great men with great ideals can be separated by hundreds or even thousands of miles and still be in the same place,” Freeman says. “When these men join forces to put the focus of reaching the same goals, to attain the same outcomes, they are not two, but one.” It’s the thesis to Savage Mode 2 — apart, they’re forces to be reckoned with, but together, they’re unstoppable. The beauty of Savage Mode and its sequel is that it’s really a brainchild of Metro and 21 Savage; a perfect middle point of their respective geniuses where Metro’s spooky production and 21 Savage’s often grim and sometimes nihilistic lyrics meet, down to the first drop. “Called the first one Savage Mode, my mood, that’s what it was/ 2016 we was runnin’ around, beatin’ n***as up in the club,” Savage raps in unison to the first kick of the project, following a villainous cackle and his latest go-to ad-lib: “pussy.”
Since the release of NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES, Metro Boomin has gotten even more comfortable as an overall conductor, or executive producer, overseeing each song to detail. His success rate often depends on the collaborator, as witnessed with the underwhelming joint effort with Big Sean, Double Or Nothing. But Savage, too, has acquired a certain attention to detail and care to his rhymes. It was a noticeable development on i am > i was in comparison to Issa. There’s intent in each bar. He’s experimenting with flows further, taking note from Southern legends that he paid homage to on the cover art.
On “Snitches and Rats” ft. Young Nudy, 21 asserts himself as an authoritative voice for the streets in the commercial landscape. The Voice of God provides the definitive difference between a rat and a snitch, a topic that started to pick up in public discourse since 6ix9ine cooperated with authorities. Though relevant as ever, it’s an in-depth exploration of a subject that frequents Savage’s music — loyalty. Trust issues have remained a fixture in his years, stemming from when he was actively in the streets. 21 Savage presents himself to be this isolated figure, plotting away at world domination out of plain sight (or at least, that’s how I’ve seen him since those ESPN memes started circulating). The rapper’s mysterious nature has been his most alluring characteristic. The space he occupies in rap is one he holds in solitude frequently, and Metro is among the very few that can sit comfortably within it. The bond and trust that’s dramatically detailed by Morgan Freeman in the intro is proven by the execution of Savage Mode 2.
In the years since releasing their respective solo projects, much has happened for 21. “My Dawg” remains one of the most insightful looks into 21 Savage’s life. Eerie piano keys that sound like they’re coming straight out of a 90s slasher flick back Savage as he addresses the realities of his status in America. It’s an even deeper look into the rapper’s origin story, explaining that even with his legal status in America at risk, he was forced to provide for himself and his mother. “No social security, couldn’t get a license, but I still didn’t complain/ I went and got it, I ain’t ask for no handout/ Lil n***a, we are not the same,” he raps. Even still, it’s a moment where he extends his own penchant for memes to fire back at the ones that riddled the timeline in the wake of his arrest. “N***as keep talkin’ this U.K. shit like I ain’t got A.Ks.”
Sequels, especially ones with bigger budgets, often result in an overbearing amount of star power, whether it’s a film or an album. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case with Savage Mode II. Young Thug helps Savage explore his R&B side a bit more deeply on their ode the players, “Rich N***a Shit.” Meanwhile, Drake adds little to the project, if not allowing 21 Savage to further explore his loverboy side and of course, Metro’s vocal sample. Oh, and embarrassing SZA.
21 Savage and Metro Boomin created a unique strain of trap on Savage Mode that has become difficult to replicate or emulate to the same success. Even for the creators themselves. Their personal and professional growth wouldn’t have allowed them to recreate that same untapped rawness again on Savage Mode II. The sequel explores the influences of horrorcore legends from the South that came before them with elegant orchestral sections and colossal 808s. Savage Mode II is a glorious expansion of the undeniable chemistry they introduced four years ago, further cementing 21 Savage and Metro Boomin status in the pantheon of rapper-producer duos. A sequel that disappoints, Savage Mode II is not.