A&E Review

Disappointing Features on “american dream” Become 21 Savage’s Nightmare

21 Savage’s “american dream” Album Cover Courtesy of Genius.

The long driveway leads up to a stark white house with a porch that wraps around the property. It’s surrounded by a white picket fence. Kids prance around a freshly mowed lawn with the family golden retriever. A shiny suburban sits proudly in the two-car garage. The “American Dream,” right? Wrong.

Replace that suburban with a Dodge Hellcat. Switch out that oh-so aesthetically pleasing white border for a beat-down chain link fence. Kids would never dare to play outside, and the only dogs in sight are the ones that are bet on in illegal dog fights. Now that is the American Dream … or at least it is according to the Atlanta rapper 21 Savage.

21’s third solo album, “american dream,” released in the wake of his exciting collab and tour with Drake is a much-needed reminder of what one of Atlanta’s finest can do on his own. To say this project is a roller coaster would be an understatement.

For starters, this album requires two listens. The overall message went right over my head the first time, and that’s the most crucial aspect of this project. I was expecting songs rooted in triumph, and was disappointed when 21 focused more on death, corruption and the brutal realities that come with life in the hard-nosed Atlanta streets.

The album opens up with a minute-long interlude behind a sample of Rose Royce’s 1977 single, “Wishing On A Star.” 21’s mother is talking. Her British accent behind Royce’s soft tones is the theatrical entrance someone of 21’s status requires.

With such an inspiring intro, I assumed the album was going to be a 15-song success story. However, it was anything but that and rather explained through brilliant lyricism how 21’s come up is far different from how this country romanticizes the American Dream. 

Born in the slums of London, and raised in the streets of Atlanta; 21 has lived life with a chip on his shoulder. The first track, “all of me,” is his way of setting the tone. 21 touches on subjects of fake friends, life before fame, and keeping his head down and getting to work — just in far more colorful language.

“redrum” and “sneaky” are trademark 21 Savage songs to lure fans further into this album. I still struggled to see how they fit into the “american dream” theme, but the unforgiving lyrics and bass-heavy beats are exactly what you expect when you hit play on a 21 Savage album. 

21 can get anyone in the game to hop on an album with him, so the production quality of his work is never in question. London on da Track and Metro Boomin headline a stacked list of producers who collabed on this album with 21. And they did their thing.

Metro Boomin manhandled “nee-nah” and “just like me.” The transitions were so crisp, and he seems to always pull an unknown song out of his vault to sample. 

It was at the halfway point of the album that this American Dream turned into a nightmare. The artists 21 brought along for the ride sounded uninterested and in a hurry to leave the studio. Doja Cat did nothing special, Summer Walker assumed her God-given vocals could save how lazy her lyrics were and Brent Faiyaz just did one of his half-sing-half rap travesties on “should’ve wore a bonnet.”

The features list for “american dream” was actually very impressive, but the artists 21 teamed up with let him down. The outliers were easily reggae’s Burna Boy and the always impressive Travis Scott. Burna Boy’s going to have a lot of beachside clubs rocking with “just like me.” The production from Metro Boomin was masterfully done as he balances the reggae vibe with 21’s signature trap flow. “just like me” is so intricately made, and a bright spot in the back half of a weak-sounding album.

The underwhelming performances from some of rap and R&B’s young stars on this project further feed into a recent discussion that veteran rappers like Offset and TI have brought up in interviews of late. 

These artists who have earned their stripes in the industry have kept it simple, “Rap is getting boring, and there’s nothing new being brought to the game,” said Offset in an interview with Apple Music.

“american dream” was 21’s clear attempt at giving CPR to a dying music genre. From the industry’s hottest like Lil Durk to up-and-coming R&B singers like Mariah the Scientist, 21 brought everyone imaginable in for a collaboration — and they all failed him.

This project switches the flow, vibe and tempo on multiple occasions. There’s no debate that 21 did his part, but those who were brought in to make a good thing great missed the mark.

“american dream” is another home run for 21, who really hasn’t tripped up since 2015. He’s on one of the most impressive runs in the rap industry, and this most recent project shows he’s living out his “american dream” — but that took time, experimenting with music and making his music unique to him.

This new wave of artists sees an artist like 21 and expects to reach his status overnight. Rap right now is lazy, monotone and the same superficial lyrics over a beat, and young musicians plagued a brilliant project from 21 with this entitled approach to music.

21 Savage may have reached his American Dream, but the performances of others on his project proved it’s going to be a while till we see someone else get on his level.