“Are things better or worse the second time around? Can we really do anything more than once?” Morgan Freeman asks in “Runnin,” the opening track of “Savage Mode II” (2020), 21 Savage’s newest album. The essential trap album “Savage Mode” (2016) solidified rapper 21 Savage and producer Metro Boomin’s status as legends of the Atlanta hip-hop scene. Since then, 21 Savage has become a consistent, well-respected rapper, and Metro Boomin has become one of the best hip-hop producers of the 2010s. “Savage Mode” was an excellent record but has not aged well due to its inconsistency and the later proliferation of Metro Boomin’s production. Improved delivery from 21 Savage, the sinister production of Metro Boomin and narration from Morgan Freeman make “Savage Mode II” 21 Savage’s best album yet. If it weren’t for a few out of place and mediocre songs, “Savage Mode II” would be a nearly flawless project.
“Savage Mode II” sounds more like a continuation of his previous album, “i am > i was” (2018) rather than a sequel to “Savage Mode.” Metro Boomin’s production is as menacing and cinematic as ever, but 21 Savage’s sinister, slow mumble has been replaced by an energetic, fast-paced delivery style. In “Savage Mode,” his voice alone was chilling and enhanced his persona. “Savage Mode II” proves that 21 Savage has definitely improved as a rapper, but his new style isn’t as raw and results in fewer of his signature one-liners. Luckily, Metro Boomin’s production keeps the tone of the album dark.
Throughout the album the chemistry between 21 Savage and Metro Boomin is incredible. “Runnin” and “Glock in My Lap” are some of the few songs that actually live up to the name of the album. On “Runnin,” which features a sample from Diana Ross’s “I Thought it Took a Little Time” (1976), 21 Savage aggressively raps about how he makes people afraid of him. “Glock In My Lap,” produced by Metro Boomin, Honorable C.N.O.T.E. and Southside, begins with the three consecutive producer tags over a murderous beat, building tension before 21 Savage starts his first verse. 21 Savage does not disappoint, as his flow is infectious and his hook is catchy.
Unfortunately, “Savage Mode II” has the same consistency problems as its predecessor, albeit to a much lesser degree. “Mr. Right Now,” featuring Drake, is the most disappointing song on the album. It is not a bad song by any means, but there is nothing savage about 21 Savage and Drake rapping over a bright beat about their relationships. It is completely out of place on “Savage Mode II,” and sounds like one of the more forgettable songs from a Drake album. “Rich N—- S—,” featuring Young Thug, also does not feel like it belongs on a Savage Mode tape, but its quality more than makes up for it. 21 Savage delivers a signature great hook while Young Thug effortlessly flexes his wealth over a dreamy, string-heavy beat from Metro Boomin, making it one of the most enjoyable songs on the album.
Listening to Morgan Freeman describe the difference between a snitch and rat on “Snitches & Rats (Interlude)” is absolutely surreal. The following song, “Snitches & Rats,” would be forgettable if it were not for an excellent feature verse from Young Nudy. “My Dawg,” on the other hand, offers the very best of Metro Boomin and 21 Savage and sounds like it could’ve been on the original “Savage Mode.” 21 Savage addresses his U.K. heritage with multiple flows over a beat that sounds straight out of a horror movie. On “Steppin on N—–,” 21 Savage raps over an ’80s-inspired hip-hop beat, which is impressive but didn’t sound particularly good.
The album concludes with two introspective songs, “RIP Luv” and “Said N Done.” 21 Savage reflects on how hardship has made it difficult for him to find love, and concludes the album fittingly, as he calmly raps about the possibilities of what his future could look like.
While it is much less dark than its predecessor and slightly inconsistent, “Savage Mode II” is not only 21 Savage’s best work so far, but one of the best hip-hop releases of the year. 21 Savage again proves he is a perfect fit for Metro Boomin’s cinematic and spooky production.