Can an artist be the best artist of the year if they didn’t release a solo album in that year? 

It’s a tricky question, which many will gut-check say no to, and for fair reason. It’d be like winning the Oscar for Best Director from a series of commercials. Despite not having a solo project out, 21 Savage took control of 2022 in a way that no one could have seen possible. 

Savage was EVERYWHERE in 2022. He had his hand in AOTY contenders and collaborated with up and coming artists. He hopped on a track with one of the GOATs and put out a collaborative album with arguably the biggest artist in the world, and then became a trending TikTok sound because of it. 

Of course, this may not be enough for some of you. And I respect that. But if Steven Spielberg had directed an ad for KFC, well, the Academy would at least take a look at it. 

If you think about it, the best artist of the year is essentially an MVP award, and there’s two ways to win an MVP award. The first is to put the whole team on your back, do it all yourself and put up astounding numbers. Think Russell Westbrook in 2017. But there is another way to win one, a more lowkey way, that is predicated on teamwork and being a glue guy, orchestrating wins while not exactly setting the place on fire. 21 Savage was 2022’s Steve Nash.

To extend this clumsy metaphor even further, let’s look at ‘Cash In Cash Out’, a nuclear bomb of a song from Savage, Tyler the Creator, and Pharrell. If Savage is Steve Nash, then on this track, Tyler is Amar’e Stoudemire, wholly ready to capitalise on the opportunity that The Slaughter King is setting up for him (Pharrell is Mike D’Antoni btw). 

For one minute and twenty seconds, Savage sets the foundation, weaving in and out of the defence, comparing himself to Kim Jong-Un, and throwing possibly the funniest stray ever at his bodyguard. 

Then he drops it off to Tyler, who hammers it home with one of the most electric verses of the year. But had Tyler led off, or another rapper with less of a consistent flow, then the second half of the song wouldn’t pack nearly as much of a punch. 

But this isn’t the only role he played. 

On ‘Surround Sound’ by JID and also featuring Baby Tate, Savage lets it rip, going for broke in the middle of the song as he recounts the ways in which he both earned and protects his fortune. He then goes on to cover a few miscellaneous topics, including the fact that he calls those who talks to the cops as ‘Mickey’, even though Mickey is a mouse, not a rat. But anyway. 

On ‘Jimmy Cooks’, he demolishes the switched beat, as he and Drake essentially put out the hip-hop equivalent of a Marvel post-credit scene, giving fans a taste of the duo before going on to release ‘Her Loss’ five months later. 

Whilst there is some debate over the success of this joint album, there is one criticism that feels almost universal: there wasn’t enough 21 Savage. The album is exactly one hour long, but Savage accounts for just over a quarter of that, only getting one verse on most songs compared to Drake’s two or three, and only having one solo song, ‘3AM on Glenwood’, compared to Drake’s four. 

But again, it’s not quantity, but quality that we’re after here, and in comparison to Drake’s, uh, dreary lyricism, Savage is consistent as always, particularly on songs ‘On BS’ and ‘Broke Boys’. The only thing more impactful than their album was the TikTok trend it started, although Savage was understandably not the biggest fan of this. 

So it’s November, near the end of the year. 21 Savage has dropped songs with Pharrell, Tyler the Creator, JID, Baby Tate, Drake, DJ Khaled, Calvin Harris, Latto, YG, Tyga, BIA, King Von, Gunna, Travis Scott, Lil Durk, Roddy Rich and more. Surely that’s enough for one year? Not for 21 Savage. He still had to hop on a track with one of the GOATs. 

After accidentally setting off a mini-beef with Nas when he told Jay-Z he didn’t feel like he was still ‘relevant’, Savage realised there was only one thing to do: jump on an old-school beat with him and bury the hatchet. 

Releasing November 30th, ‘One Mic, One Gun’ was less of a passing of the torch moment, moreso two generational rappers coming together to bridge the divide between old school and new school, as well as dismiss what many considered a slight from Savage towards Nas. The song’s entire thesis statement is summed up in one line from Savage, where he says: “If Savage like the capo that mean Escobar the don, one mic, one gun.” 

Just like he did time and time again in 2022, 21 Savage held his own, and elevated yet another track. As if that wasn’t enough, he also went on to feature on four songs on Metro Boomin’s ‘HEROES & VILLAINS’, an album that many consider a late bolter for AOTY contention. 

There’s still time for 21 Savage to sneak in five or six more verse of the year contenders, but even if he chooses to take his foot off the gas, what the Saint Laurent Don has done in the last 12 months is absolutely undeniable, and the fact that he has had to complete his work on other peoples tracks and albums is only more of a testament to how dominant of a run it has been. 

I guess 21 really could do something for us. 

Article by Jed Wells.

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