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How 21 Savage became one of the best rappers of his generation

Did you know that 21 Savage was not American by birth, but English? Nope ? We didn’t either, at least we didn’t know before 2019. As incredible as it may seem, the one we thought was from Atlanta was actually born in London, British territory. He entered the United States in July 2005, but was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2019 due to a visa that expired in 2006.

Finally recognized as a legal resident of American territory after a long legal battle, it is hard to imagine that he remained so long underground. Already because three years ago, he had already broken into rap, but also and above all because long before becoming a star of the game, the young Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph of his real name was not unknown to police services.

Started from the street

Child of the street, 21 Savage will very quickly take the path of delinquency. At 12, the kid raised in the cradle of trap is already expelled and blacklisted from all schools in his district. The reason ? In fifth grade, he arrives at the OKLM school with a gun under his arm and with the firm intention of settling a score with a guy with whom he has fallen out. Fortunately, he will be denounced before taking action, fired from his establishment and sent to a detention center for minors. When he leaves, he continues his school career in an alternative structure, but will not stay there even a year, the fault once again of multiple exclusions.

Away from the school benches for good, the young thug finally succumbs to the temptation of the streets and becomes a full-time dealer in a local gangster group, the 21, affiliated with the larger Bloods gang. Simple seller of weed at the base, he will very quickly switch to more serious and reprehensible crimes. Robberies and other car thefts are his daily life until he is arrested driving a contraband vehicle.

In 2011, he lost his right arm Larry during a settling of accounts between The Crips and the Bloods. Two years later, his best friend Johnny was shot in an orchestrated robbery attempt on October 22, 2013, the day of his 21st birthday. That day, the future 21 Savage will take himself six bullets, including one in the head and will narrowly escape death.

Well aware of having come close to his own end and deeply and affected by this new and umpteenth loss of a loved one, the young ATL thug sees this electroshock as a blessed sign of fate. During his convalescence, the miraculous person questions his harmful lifestyle and begins to think about better prospects for the future. Marked for life by the street and eager to expiate his sins definitively, the one whose multiple tattoos are the indelible scars of his tormented past will find his salvation in rap. He will begin his rise as “Atlanta’s underground hero”.

rap for salvation

His career officially began on November 12, 2014 with the release of his very first title Picky, from his first mixtape The Slaughter Tape, unveiled a few months later. Through a dark universe and this nonchalant flow that is unique to him, 21 Savage then depicts his past as a gangster and the violence that this implies. Inspired by the OG of Atlanta Gucci Mane, he will squarely dedicate his next EP Free Guwop to him. But it is certainly with his second mixtape entitled The Slaughter King that things will speed up for him.

Head of the new trap wave of American rap at the time, 21 Savage would get a huge spotlight by appearing on XXL magazine’s unmissable Freshmen Class 2016. A list of new talents to follow that he shares this year with other rising stars of the time, such as Desiigner, Dace East, Lil Yachty, G Herbo, Lil Uzi Vert, Kodak Black or Anderson .Paak.

Height of the exhibition, it will be released the same year Savage Mode, his first project in collaboration with one of Atlanta’s hottest up-and-coming beatmakers, Metro Boomin. On this project, we find one of his first hits in the charts, the title X in association with Future. It is this title which will give him for the first time an international influence and especially his first platinum single. A certification from which will result his first major contract, at Atlantic Records.

The machine was definitely launched and his first studio album, Issa Album was released in 2017. It was also around the same time that he obtained his first number 1 single, with his participation in Post Malone’s Rockstar hit. We went fast, but this whirlwind panorama of the beginning of his career is simply the image of the rise of 21 Savage. Now at the top of the game and the charts, he will use his new notoriety to carry out numerous philanthropic actions. As if to redeem himself from his tumultuous school career and atone even more for his mistakes of the past.

Among his latest gestures, he launched a free online financial education program for children, to teach them how to manage their money during the Covid pandemic. A few years earlier, he had also led a campaign and donated $21,000 to fight bullying and school harassment. Clearly, through rap and actions, the rapper sought to redeem his behavior, with the stated objective of doing good around him and thus becoming a better version of himself.

Now an essential figure in the US rap game, 21 Savage will chain remarkable collaborations with big names in US rap. His lifelong sidekick Metro Boomin of course, Offset on their joint project Without Warningbut also Young Thug, Lil Uzi Vert, Nicki Minaj or even Ty Dolla $ign. In the end, all this will only be an aperitif since December 21, 2019 released his second album I Am > I Was, pronounced I Am Greater than I Was.

I Was < I Am < I'll be

21 Savage says it, since he’s been rapping, he is better than he has ever been, humanly first, but also artistically. More than a speech of intention, he proves it with this brilliant album on all points. Dressed in a dark hue and always conducive to the tale of heightened violence, I Am > I Was makes the distinction between the rapper’s past life and his spiritual walk towards redemption.

Despite a prestigious cast and significant (albeit uncredited) collaborations with Travis Scott, Post Malone, Childish Gambino, Offset, Gunna, Lil Baby and Schoolboy Q, 21 Savage remains the leader and orchestrator of his work and offers us a project that is more intimate and personal than ever. Not only will he receive rave reviews from the specialized press, but he will also achieve commercial performances never before achieved by the rapper.

Upon its release, the album rose to first place on the Billboard with 131,000 copies sold in the first week. A thunderous start for a project that will be certified platinum just over a year after its release. In terms of notable awards, I Am > I Was will logically be nominated in the rap album of the year category of the 2020 Grammy Awards. It will not be consecrated as such, but its flagship single A Lot in collaboration with J. Cole will pocket the trophy for best rap song. It’s already that.

Since then, the Covid pandemic has hit, but 21 Savage has not rested on its laurels. After the successive releases of Savage Mode II, the sequel to his mixtape in collaboration with Metro Boomin (thirteen tracks of which ended up simultaneously on the Billboard Hot 100 chart), multiple new collaborations and the soundtrack of the horror film Spiral, which he produced himself, the Atlanta rapper should soon be back with a new solo album. In any case, this is what he has suggested recently.

“No album in a year and a half… It’s time”, wrote the rapper at the end of January on Twitter. A way to say that savagery will soon be back? An open secret obviously since you are not unaware that 21 Savage has already started the year well with the release of a double clip titled titled No Debate / Big Smoke. A piece of more than six minutes between melancholy and dark trap, which says a lot about the Olympic form of the guy at the moment.

Contrary to what his easy-going, no-nonsense demeanor might imply, 21 Savage has never stopped improving. By setting the bar ever higher over the course of his projects, he gave everything to wash away the sins of his former life as a gangster and continues today to do everything to make those who were taken from him proud by the street. With his music as an eternal support of memory, the artist promises us a better and even more ambitious return for 2022. His next announced goal? Sharing the microphone with the godfather of New York rap, the one and only: Jay-Z.

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