We laugh when we probably shouldn’t.
21 Savage has yet to make anything to match the quality of last year’s Savage Mode, one of the best Atlanta trap tapes, but he’s solidifying into one of the movement’s most distinctive voices. His raps are single-minded, lip-smacking communications of the kind of personality that sucks all the air out of a room. He’s got the same glint in his eye as Snoop Dogg, and though he takes street violence very seriously, he seems to joke about it as a sort of catharsis. Like with Future, we laugh when we probably shouldn’t.
He’s the unquestioned star of Without Warning, a surprise-released Halloween tape with Offset and Metro Boomin whose milieu is menace. Savage stalks the beats like a silent killer, cracking grim jokes. He immediately compares himself to Kim Jong-Un when he starts rapping on “Ghostface Killers,” and on “My Choppa Hate Niggas” he decides opening a morgue might be a good business investment. He’s in his element.
The same, alas, can’t be said of Offset, who’s increasingly looking like the breakout Migo over his cousin Quavo. He riffs like a trooper on Halloween tropes, devoting his “Nightmare” to a great comparison of a midnight home invasion to Freddy Krueger’s killing style. But on “Ric Flair Drip” he’s lost and defaults to talking about his jewelry. It’s the catchiest, jauntiest thing here, which means it’s wholly incongruous. It’s easy to imagine Offset as a solo rap star without his group, but he deserves a better showcase.
Metro Boomin’s still one of Atlanta’s best producers, though recent efforts by 808 Mafia guys like Southside rival his strongest work. He’s working here in the familiar format of the horrorcore beat: minor-key pianos, Danny Elfman bells, haunted-house sound effects. His work’s been more impressive in the past, largely because he’s working in such a hackneyed form here, but he transcends it by grace of how good he is. He likes to bury the wolves and chainsaws and maniacal mwa-ha-has deep in caverns of bass.
Without Warning is really worth it for the individual performances of its participants rather than for its songs. It’s hookless, and it might have been a better use of Offset’s talent to assign him to the hook department while keeping the focus solely on Savage as lead rapper. I suppose catchy choruses aren’t really what Without Warning’s about—it’s really about rapping and atmosphere—but there’s not a whole lot to make these songs memorable, and we remember individual lines more than the songs they’re from.
Most projects like this are low-stakes baubles meant to keep us talking between bigger releases by their participants. The problem is we’re still fixed on every move from these guys. Young Thug and Future, who dropped the similar Super Slimey two weeks ago, are spotlight veterans; they’re still good, but it’s easy to be a little sick of them. But 21 Savage is at the top of his game here, and Offset’s looking a lot like a major star in the making. Their names give Without Warning extra weight it really doesn’t deserve.