“Whether from St. Louis or East Atlanta/Whether from a savage land or a booming metropolis/Whether they are two or two billion, the greatest their numbers could ever become, is to truly become one,” Morgan Freeman says during Savage Mode II’s introduction track. As the long-awaited sequel to 21 Savage and Metro Boomin’s 2016 mixtape Savage Mode, the pressure and anticipation of its release was palpable. Savage Mode marked the union between an artist still discovering his hip-hop identity and a producer yet to perfect his sampling technique. But the finished product was masterful. The combination of Metro’s synths and 21’s unorthodox voice on the nine-track mixtape created an irreplicable villainous sound and energy. Savage Mode transported 21 from East Atlanta to the world stage and solidified Metro as the premier hip-hop producer in the music industry.
Savage Mode II celebrates Metro’s return after almost two years of inactivity and is 21’s first album since he was detained by ICE in early 2019. The album is fueled by a powerhouse of industry giants who each contribute to all facets of production and release. Its cover, featuring artistry by Pen and Pixel Graphics—popular for designs of southern hip-hop albums at the turn of the century—screams Juvenile and Lil Wayne. Featuring both Drake and Young Thug, the duo does everything in their power to ensure that Savage Mode II becomes a classic.
In line with Metro’s production style, harnessed on a 2018 track like “10 Freaky Girls” with 21 himself, the opening of the first track, “Runnin”, sounds like a scratched R&B record. Behind a gripping static, the angelic voice of Diana Ross is accompanied by a violin. When we hear the menacing laugh of 21, a minor chord on the grand piano, and a beat drop, the listener enters a new world—a world of “buying cars just cause” and “beating n***** up at the club.” The chorus is simple, one-word simple, but 21 thrives as he raps “Runnin, runnin, runnin…” over the meticulously engineered 808s, hip-hop’s staple drum machine.
The sequential producer tags of Southside, Honorable CNOTE and Metro above minor chords and 808s at the beginning of “Glock in My Lap” are a masterclass in style. Building tension, the star-studded production team creates a chilling hip-hop accompaniment to Nightmare on Elm Street. Best of all, 21 doesn’t take himself too seriously, at one-point rapping, “Chuck E. Cheese, rat, we get rodents wacked,” a conduct fans have grown to love. At the project’s most mediocre is 21’s collaboration with Drake, “Mr. Right Now,” a lazy attempt at a mainstream R&B track. We can only imagine what would have been if Drake’s feature resembled anything on his Metro-produced project, What A Time to Be Alive.
If “Glock in My Lap” was 21 committing a crime, “Rich N**** Shit” is him on his now fully covered trip to Hawaii. On the standout track featuring Young Thug, cowbells and a refined string section fit excellently as the rappers celebrate luxuries, from Porsches to Chanel with ease. On “Many Men,” 21 pays homage to 50 Cent’s 2003 song of the same name. As 21 raps about his near-death experiences, as 50 did nearly twenty years prior—he was shot nine times in 2000—Metro’s attention to detail is immaculate. Towards the end, Metro quietly samples the original track’s chorus before a notable interlude by Morgan Freeman on the difference between “snitches” and “rats.” The most surprising track on the album is “Steppin on N*****,” a throwback to the ‘80s and ‘90s West Coast hip-hop scene. 21 and Metro put on their Raiders hats, adopting the flow and production of Eazy-E. While the duo did diligent research, the song does nothing more than accompany the old-school album cover.
At the end of “Runnin,” Morgan Freeman asks, “Are things better or worse the second time around? Can we really do anything more than once?” It’s an interesting question. If Savage Mode was an original film, Savage Mode II is the sequel you enjoy because it captures a lot of what made the first so special. Metro’s production has a seemingly ever-rising ceiling, creating innovative beats that continue to push the industry standard. His tighter production, paired with a more confident 21, playful amid his dark content, represent a clear evolution for the two. The incorporation of Morgan Freeman on eight of the albums fifteen tracks couldn’t feel more natural. Nevertheless, one can’t help but question 21’s lyrical depth, since his content isn’t necessarily new. The beloved dark energy of Savage Mode thrives and expands on this new project, but while Metro’s versatility allows him to produce for artists from The Weeknd to Solange, 21 needs to adapt. It’s time to stop reworking old material and tap into his vulnerability.