Hip-hop has seen its fair share of highs and lows this year. For every forgettable Childish Gambino flop, there’s a Run The Jewels project that perfectly encapsulates the turbulent summer. For every Jay Electronica project that failed to live up to decades-long anticipation, there was a collaboration between rapper Freddie Gibbs and producer The Alchemist to make everything feel better.
An artist like Eminem is far past his prime at this point, but while it can be considered more of a singer/songwriter project than a straight rap album, the team surrounding the late Mac Miller did his legacy justice with the posthumous release of “Circles.” The point being that in a year that has been dominated by negative headlines across the world, hip-hop has had a fairly consistent year on the whole.
With the fourth quarter of 2020 waiting in the wings, fans of the genre are curious to see if anyone else will try and make the claim for album of the year. Luckily, a new contender made its presence known on Oct. 2. And its narrator? Morgan Freeman.
“Savage Mode II,” the brainchild of rapper 21 Savage and producer Metro Boomin, acts as the sequel to 2016’s “Savage Mode” — the project that put Savage on the map initially. Featuring fan favorites like “X” with Future and “No Heart,” the nine-song mixtape was a grim look at street life and a dark interpretation of the heartless childhood lifestyle that a young Savage grew accustomed to in Atlanta, Georgia. Four years, a multitude of star-making features and one bizarre incident with ICE officers later, Mr. Savage has become a beloved figure in the rap community as he seemingly gets better with each release. Metro Boomin, on the other hand, has continued his reputation as one of the genre’s most prolific and revered producers.
With all that said, “Savage Mode II” builds on all of that positive momentum and makes a case as the best full length in either men’s discography.
The album opens with the aforementioned Morgan Freeman welcoming you to what you’re about to listen to in a way only Morgan Freeman, and he continues his soothing presence throughout the record’s duration.
Freeman adds a very calming and sage presence to what is a pretty in-your-face gangsta rap album, and the balance struck between the two is perfect for what they were going for. Speaking of perfect, the opening song “Runnin” is the perfect tone setter for an album that doesn’t have an outright bad song on it. Running — excuse the pun — at just 44 minutes, the album flies by on first listen.
Similar to Savage’s 2017 collaborative project with Migos member Offset on “Without Warning,” there’s an air of creepiness surrounding a good portion of songs here that fits like a glove with the spookiness of October. Songs like “Glock In My Lap,” “Slidin,” “Many Men” and “Snitches & Rats” feel like they were intended as background music to Halloween parties that won’t be taking place this year.
Savage floats over tracks like “RIP Luv” and “Brand New Draco” — which heavily samples Eazy E’s “Boyz-n-the-Hood” — with ease, and goes toe-to-toe with Young Thug on “Rich N---- S---” just as well. “Mr. Right Now” is a perfectly fine radio single aside from an unnecessary Drake verse, and 21 ties up the entire project in a bow and ribbon with the excellent “Said N Done.”
If you were a fan of the original “Savage Mode” and go into this expecting the same type of project, you might leave disappointed, but you would be disappointed for the wrong reasons. “Savage Mode II” adds depth and improvement to an already rapidly improving Savage and another notch in the belt for the already established Metro Boomin. The end results are indeed, savage.