Unflinching yet offhanded rapper 21 Savage left street life behind to establish a career that rapidly progressed between 2016 and 2018 with a string of hit singles including "X," "No Heart," and "Bank Account," and the RIAA-certified gold releases Savage Mode and Issa Album.
The Atlanta-based artist, born Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, turned to rap following a pivotal incident — on his 21st birthday — that resulted in several gunshot wounds and the death of his best friend. He made his debut the following year, 2014, with the DJ Plugg-produced "Picky." A pair of mixtapes and Free Guwop, an EP executive-produced by Sonny Digital, were released in 2015, priming 21 for mainstream infiltration. During the latter half of 2016, 21 was a constant presence on the upper reaches of the Billboard charts with a wave of collaborative and headlining singles, including "X" (featuring Future), "No Heart," and Drake's "Sneakin'." The first two of those tracks highlighted Savage Mode, a set on which 21 and producer Metro Boomin were co-billed. In 2017, shortly after Savage Mode was certified gold by the RIAA, 21 released his proper debut full-length for major-label Epic, Issa Album, the source of the multi-platinum single "Bank Account." Only a few months later, he and Offset issued Without Warning, his second consecutive release to hit the Top Five of the Billboard 200. All the while, additional success came after he was a featured artist on Post Malone's "Rockstar" and Cardi B's "Bartier Cardi." A handful of guest verses, along with contributions to the soundtracks of Uncle Drew and Superfly, followed in 2018; at the end of that year he dropped his second album, I Am > I Was ("I am greater than I was"). The album debuted at number one on the Billboard charts and stayed in the top slot for two weeks. Shortly after the album's release, the rapper was arrested by U.S. customs agents, who had determined he was actually a citizen of the United Kingdom living in the states illegally. While 21 Savage had claimed to be an Atlanta native, it came out that he was indeed born in London and had been living in the U.S. on a visa that expired in 2006. He was released on bail and remained in the U.S. while awaiting trial. ~ Andy Kellman