On “All the Smoke,” 21 Savage’s first officially official offering since the Savage Mode tape was unleashed on an unsuspecting world in July, he says “21” 23 times, and this is not new. Bone-dry plain speak and numbing repetition are intrinsic to 21’s interpretation of the form of rapping; he uses that ad lib like a Pokémon does their own name. (He’s a Scyther, by the way. Debate the sheet-full of holographic cards you didn’t have in grade school.)
This is to say that the song itself, produced by Southside, is … kind of a chore. Not because 21 doesn’t coolly cast off illicit activities with the same glazed stolidity with which you might order Thai from the spot that’s a block from your apartment …
… but because it doesn’t feel new anymore. (Sidebar: Do you know anyone whose nose is not on their face?) Of course, that’s something I can think about only when given time to listen to any single 21 Savage song too closely. On its own, out in the ether, “All the Smoke” is sort of lax, as was “Issa” — “leaked” last week — on which Drake was half asleep and even Young Thug, human jumper cable, sounded kind of indifferent. The same could be said of the energy on Savage Mode’s “X” or “No Heart,” but those were given the singles treatment only after we’d had three whole months to search for daylight in those catacombs 21 and Metro Boomin dug out together. 21 Savage’s music is best digested in full, not piece by piece.
In early May, 21 Savage tweeted “6–1–17,” and while no one quite knew what it meant, fingers were crossed for #IssaAlbum, the album. Instead we get the video for “All the Smoke,” and while it’s not the release I’d hoped for, I can say with some confidence that he’s internalized the idea that his sound — as plenty of bloggers including myself have suggested — is slasher film.
The video, directed by Matthew Swinsky, starts with three crazy kids pulling up to a secluded spot in the middle of sleepy, foggy, creepy nowhere to drink some D’Usse around the campfire. They don’t hear the music, as no one in any horror movie ever does, and one by one — running in all directions except toward safety — they get hacked down by a hulking figure in Jason Voorhees garb as 21 shoe-gazes about murdering people and moving weight. It’s gnarly stuff, and definitely serves to ramp up the song’s designer sadism. Though I do have to wonder whether it was more enjoyable to infer “horror film” from 21’s music than it was to have it packaged and sold to us. Anyway, if you’re not squeamish — and I mean, you kind of can’t be if you listen to 21’s music — there’s a bonus [UNCUT] version of the video, in which all the grisly deaths are left unobscured.
I still would’ve preferred the whole album, though.