In January, 21 Savage released the best rap song of 2019. In February, the London-born rapper became a political lightning rod after being taken briefly into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — gaining a new layer of mainstream political attention.
Playing the T-Mobile stage at Austin City Limits Music Festival on Saturday evening was the easy part, then, for the 26-year-old (real name Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph). He’s an internet regular, and having written nonstop streaming-age hits and even becoming a meme himself a few times, 21 Savage rode his amassed clout as hip-hop fans bounced and moshed at will.
“I appreciate y’all coming out to see me,” 21 Savage told the gaggle of CamelBak-and-bandanna bros while closing on viral standard “Bank Account.”
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It was about as chatty as he got. The dude emerged looking like Hawkeye on Vormir from "Avengers: Endgame." The Atlanta-raised rapper’s onstage mountain was split down the middle by a staircase, glowing red as he sported all black. He cooly rapped over his backing track, plating hits like a prep cook.
About that best track: I’m referring to “A Lot,” a brutally personal yet instantly pop-friendly essay about the end of the rope. Over a soulful and sunburned sample courtesy of East of Underground’s “I Love You,” 21 Savage mumbled tales of trauma — here alongside frenzied young people.
“You went and wrote a statement, man,” he rapped in disbelief about a friend who left him hanging by speaking to the police.
Four album releases in since 2016, 21 Savage remains distinct and charismatic. He mumbles to the reductive dismay of purist rap fans, but he writes with lucidity and power. He’s not a dynamic performer, but his singles talk and his lyrics can simultaneously be hilarious and harrowing, like “they say crack kills — my crack sells.”
It’s lived-in street rap that the University of Texas kids love, in part because it’s reckless and rebellious. The Post Malone collab “Rock Star,” his work with Future and Cardi B: 21 Savage enjoys a veritable library of trap bangers. And here his ACL playlist was top-shelf.