1000 Albums Project

ALBUM 367

I Am > I Was, by 21 Savage
Suggested by Krystian Musztafa

Scores for the angry spoken word branch of this project are spotty at best.

Bizarrely, while things started off well as far as my outlook went, early-reviewed albums didn’t make the highlight reel, and their scores reflected this. There were a few special offerings, specifically Kanye, but the Rap albums with the high scores are invariably on the quirkier end of the scale. Indie spoken word artists like Kae Tempest and Jamie B scored well, as did Watsky and Sage Francis later down the line.

Basically, the white folk.

Am I a Rap Racist?

I’ve actually given the question some serious thought. Could it be true? Am I dismissing the Black Urban Narrative without proper care or attention? Rap albums roll around, and I find it harder and harder to muster up anything other than damning boredom for the tired and inappropriate content barked by Angry Young Black Americans. What’s worse, I presume, is that I was unable to even decipher half of the songs, never mind enjoy them. When an album by a clear-spoken Angry Young White American hit my turntable, or even an album by a Quirky Young White Brit, I’d feel much more comfortable, and my scores would rise accordingly.

Music feeds off personal emotion, heightening its relevance if you can empathise with the artist or the narrative. It’s here, I think, where there is an understandable problem. I can offer no insight, no understanding, no real comprehension of the lives of the genre’s main protagonists, and as the genre itself relies on authenticity, rawness and an intimate confessional delivery, it leaves me floundering, without mooring. I can only truly connect on the superficial level, enjoying the flows, respecting the skill, nodding to the beats, instead of feeling the track and emoting with the rapper.

Further reflection makes my position clear. I have the same negatives when discussing Eminem as I do when discussing Snoop Dogg. And the African American rappers that do receive high scores are likely caricatures like Kanye, or acts like Clipping or Run The Jewels, who bring either an unconventional subject (like horror film rap) or incredible personal skill to the table. So no, I’m not a Hip Hop Hater. I just like what Ilike.

What of 21 Savage? Is he doomed to a low score because I can’t connect to his reality? Or does he transcend that through exceptional skill or creative abandon?

Sadly, it’s the former.

Look! Here’s a song about boobs. Here’s another about sexual prowess. Here’s one about doing crime. And another about being rich. And another, and another. The flows aren’t exciting, along the “baddada-baddada-badda (uh) / baddada-baddada-badda (uh)” pattern, the delivery is autotuned to the hilt and strangely low-key, the music underscore is sparse, and the snare drum sounds like a partly-cocked pistol. My favourite song, Good Day, is not a patch on the Ice Cube track I presume it’s trying to emulate. The first song contains the line “I never was one for the bragging and the boasting,” and the rest of the album proves that line to be a lie.

I don’t think I’m a Rap Racist, but I can’t muster more than 4/10 for 21 Savage.  It’s yet another album that chronicles an impenetrable scene that personally leaves me cold.

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