Issa constitutes a breakthrough for 21 Savage. Slowly but surely, through tentative disavowals of past behaviour, the young Atlanta rapper is starting to thaw. A year ago he was brashly patriarchal; today he's a relative gentleman. "I won't waste your time if you don't waste mine / I wanna taste yours if you gon' taste mine," he bargains on "FaceTime."
But it takes a long while to exorcise one's demons. Time and time again on Issa, Savage re-examines a traumatic upbringing. "Close My Eyes" is the best of many songs here about coming to terms with early exposure to knife and gun violence, while "Nothin' New" casts a sceptical eye on parenthood (Savage is a child of addiction, so his scepticism feels earned). The details are wrenching in their specificity; as a storyteller, Savage has very few equals.
Competitive rhetoric has always flourished in hip-hop, and Savage's strength of feeling against certain people cannot be overstated. The constant vitriol is made scarier by his choice to rap in a stuporous, incantatory monotone. The music here — forbidding snares, honking staccato keyboards — is same-y but effective.
Not only is the dude unfazed by violence, it's his default coping mechanism; it holds the matter of his universe together. Judging by "FaceTime," "Special" and "Baby Girl," Savage is content in his relationship with model Amber Rose, even if he's still a prickly misanthrope. His sinecure at TMZ — one of the perks afforded by Rose's tabloid celebrity — won't change that. (Epic)