At a time littered with often stunning cases of newcomers ascending to rap stardom in short order, 21 Savage’s rise has been one of the most impressive. Having made his name on the mixtape circuit, the unconventional Atlanta rapper broke out from the pack with Savage Mode. Produced by Future’s hitmaker, Metro Boomin, the EP introduced the emcee’s monotone grimness to a wider audience while demonstrating that the producer’s club-friendly sound could soundtrack a more murderous mindset just as well as a lean-addled one. With this seemingly uncommercial approach doing real numbers in spite of itself, two of its cuts reaching multi-platinum status, Savage subsequently signed with Epic Records, which released his Issa album in July. That yielded the platinum-certified solo hit “Bank Account”, which primed him for a guest spot on Post Malone’s single “Rockstar” now the No. 1 song in America several weeks running.
Despite being a core member of the trap trio Migos, fellow Atlantan Offset struggled for some time to stand out and shine within the group the way Quavo had. The viral success of “Bad and Boujee” late last year changed all that, his opening “raindrop, drop top” bars popping wheelies on the zeitgeist as the track leapt rightfully to the top of the Billboard charts. Following the January release of the corresponding Culture LP, Offset has since excelled, impressing on other people’s singles like Gucci Mane’s Droptopwop highlight “Met Gala” and Metro Boomin’s “No Complaints” with Drake, as well as a number of Migos features.
Respectively, Savage and Offset turned their underdog statuses into top-dog ones. Together, they celebrated their wins with the All Hallows’ Eve surprise drop of Without Warning, a joint mixtape helmed by Young Metro. Coming relatively hot on the heels of another high-profile trap team-up, Future and Young Thug’s Super Slimey, this project takes a comparative darker turn with Savage’s crepuscular criminality and Offset’s Auto-Tuned disembodiment both befitting the spooky season.
Where the Super Slimey too often felt like a requisite Xanax-blasted victory lap, one notably soft on hooks despite the successful street chemistry of Beautiful Thugger Girls’ hit single “Relationship”, Without Warning exudes vitality and menace. Even with a pair of chart-topping singles under their Balmain belts, Offset and Savage nonetheless appear out to show and prove on “Darth Vader” and the occasionally raunchy “Mad Stalkers”. With canny lyrics and a woozy beat, “Rap Saved Me” showcases all three artists in prime form. With appetites for destruction equal to their thirst for luxury goods, they blow through reference upon ritzy reference to French couture, Swiss watches, and Austrian firearms.
Even with such obvious shared interests dominating the lyrics and the distinct execution styles of both rappers, Without Warning deflects the sort of homogeneity that turns most trap mixtapes into total mush. With his icy flow, Savage’s verses vacillate between boastful and threatening, often erratically so and to the extreme. With catchy asides about morgues and fright flicks, his solo moment “My Choppa Hate” reminds listeners that he’s the king of contemporary horrorcore, a title he assuredly has little to no interest in. While less overtly villainous than his deadpan cohort, Offset lets Savage’s sinister sensibilities rub off on him at times, particularly on opener “Ghostface Killers”. Of course, having a versatile beatsmith like Metro Boomin at the helm doesn’t hurt matters either, leaning towards the west coast on Offset’s “Ric Flair Drip” and drowning in the syrupy purple for pre-chopped/pre-screwed “Still Serving”.
While technically not Without Warning’s last word, Savage’s “Run Up the Racks” sums up his current state succinctly. Even after shifting from being an independent artist to a major label hitmaker, he hasn’t escaped the trappings of the life that led him here. The police still fuck with him. He’s still sleeping with a Glock in his mattress. There’s a restless darkness to him that challenges notions of success in the rap music business, one that historians of this genre will no doubt note plagued some of its tragically fallen. No interest in being a statistic, Savage seems prepared for war at this stage in his unlikely career. Those thinking about stopping him may want to think twice.
Essential Tracks: “Ghostface Killers”, “Nightmare”, and “Rap Saved Me”