In a decade, rapper 21 Savage transformed from an underground, difficult-to-understand trap enigma to one of Atlanta’s most distinctive and recognizable voices.

The “A Lot” rapper dropped his third studio album, American Dream, on Friday. His first solo record in five years, the album also functions as the soundtrack to his debut film, American Dream: The 21 Savage Story

In 2022, he collaborated with Drake for their joint record, Her Loss. Debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with 404,000 album-equivalent units, this collaboration was a monumental moment for both parties. 

It would be noteworthy to observe 21 Savage’s various elements and how they led to his success. Let’s get into it.

His Lyrical Acumen

In 2016, when he first teamed up with now frequent collaborator Metro Boomin for Savage Mode, 21 Savage had enough proficiency as a lyricist to stand out from his counterparts and was able to launch his signature tag “21, 21,” which has evolved into a salient staple of today’s hip-hop landscape. Slowly becoming known for his provocative “What did he just say?” lyrics and simplistic, easy-to-digest flow, 21 has been able to perfect this formula over the years. 

In 2018, when he dropped his second studio album, I Am > I Was, he became a bit more sophisticated and expansive in terms of the subject matter in his music. Instead of divulging his money and women, he began discussing more personal issues such as his metamorphosis, family matters and aspirations to be his best version. As he grew as a person, his lyrical ability also grew. 

His Collaborations

Over the last decade, 21 Savage has been fortunate to collaborate with some of the best and brightest of his generation. Some of his counterparts include Post Malone, Offset, Metro Boomin, Young Thug, Ty Dolla $ign, Future, Travis Scott, Migos, Childish Gambino, Offset, J. Cole, Gunna, Drake, ScHoolboy Q, and many more. In 2021, the London-born rapper joined J. Cole for his The Off-Season Tour. In 2023, he teamed up with Drake for the It’s All a Blur Tour. Aside from his talent, 21 Savage has developed a knack for working with everyone and elevating everything he jumps on. The spirit of synergy is his forte, and it’s only been advantageous for him in the long run.

His Street Cred

During his adolescent years, things weren’t a walk in the park for 21 Savage at all. He was banned from every school in the DeKalb County School District for gun possession. Due to bad behavior, he was sent to a juvenile detention center. He was a gang member and sold drugs for some time. He even ended up getting shot multiple times when he was younger. Many people talk about living that life in hip-hop, but 21 Savage truly lived it and is still alive to tell the tale. For this, a sense of validity makes his narrative all the more real, palpable and intense. Although he has evolved, his origin story only gives credence to his credibility as an artist. Real will always recognize real.