He spent high school in juvie
21's trouble at school begun in middle school when he didn't like the way one kid was talking to him one day. He returned the next day with a gun and got kicked out -- of that school, or any school in the county.
He moved around the greater Atlanta metropolitan area several times over the course of the next couple years and got kicked out basically everywhere he went. Eventually, he landed in juvenile hall.
He got shot six times
21 got shot six times on his 21st birthday, including once in his neck. He nearly died from blood loss. He underwent a few surgeries, was out of the hospital and back to "toting a gun" within two weeks, as he says. He has lingering nerve damage and paranoia but doesn't appear to be interested in leaving the streets. “I love the streets," he told HHR. "Even though it ain’t even worth shit.”
Getting shot motivated him to take rapping seriously
21 had dabbled in rapping in the past, primarily because his older brother was an aspiring rapper. He got serious about rapping in early 2015 after recovering from his gunshot wounds. He came up with the name "21 Savage" while coming up with an Instagram handle. He already the "21" from his crew, then he added "Savage."
He bought a Mac computer and a mic, but then his little brother robbed a house and found a better computer and mic. That's the equipment he used to record his first project, Slaughter Tape. He didn't have any marketing plan -- he just put it out and it blew up.
He released his first three projects in 2015
21 released his debut tape Slaughter Tape in May 2015 and followed that up with Free Guwop (in conjunction with Sonny Digital) in July and Slaughter King in December.
Indeed, 21's music is hardly a celebration. Deeply morbid, borderline demonic, it focuses almost exclusively on violence and the harsh reality of life in the hood.
On "Skrrt Skrrt" he raps, "Auntie hit the dope, she said it make her fucking jaw lock/ Stray bullets hitting kids while they playing hop scotch."
With Savage Mode poised to catapult him to bona fide rap stardom, 21 Savage finds himself in uncharted territory. “Hip hop got me all the way out the street," he told HHR. "It calmed me down, I ain’t wild like that no more.”
But no matter what happens, he will always be a pure manifestation of the streets. You can take the dog out the fight, but you can't take the fight out the dog.