When I arrive to interview Atlanta based rapper, 21 Savage, at Hubble Studio in Los Angeles, I expect to be greeted by an individual who embodies the word “Savage:” a fierce, violent, and uncontrollable being. Instead, I sit down to find this leading dark trap rapper is none of the above. Although the “Death Before Dishonor” tattoo sitting across his forehead and the dagger tattoo drawn between his eyes may cause one to believe otherwise, Savage is actually a very kind, modest, soft-spoken young man who’s a self proclaimed “real ass nigga in a fake-ass industry.”
While today Savage’s collaborations with the likes of Cardi B, Post Malone, and the most trusted guy in rap, Metro Boomin, sit at the top of the Billboard 100 charts, his road to success has not been easy. Savage has dealt with his fair share of hardships and believes that in order to create, you must be able to respond to pain. Born Shayaa Joseph, Savage was expelled from all DeKalb County schools for getting caught with a gun in the 7th grade. His younger brother was shot and killed in a fumbled drug deal and Savage himself was shot six times on his 21st birthday. He’s stated in past interviews, that as someone who’s been the victim of gun violence, the solution to “getting rid of all the problems in the world” is to strip everyone of guns, law enforcement included.
Savage may be a man of few words but the words he chooses to share with me he delivers bluntly and imprudently. For a guy who’s made his living rapping about “fucking bitches” amongst other things, he’s quite the romantic and surprises me more than once throughout the course of our conversation. I sit down with the young street rapper at the end of his cover shoot for TINGS Magazine to discuss the days before the limelight and what lies ahead for him in 2018.
How different was your life five years go? Can you paint a picture for us?
That shit was way different. I miss my old life, and I enjoyed it more than I enjoy this. I feel like I should be having more fun. I didn’t have as many responsibilities. Or not responsibilities but I didn’t have this much pressure. There weren’t so many people back then who cared about me. There weren’t as many people who always wanted to know what I was doing or be around me.
You’ve said before that you were “pushed into rap,” meaning it’s not something you necessarily aspired to be on your own. Was it difficult for you to come up with your first rhyme?
Not at all, it came very naturally for me, but there was a time that I felt like I didn’t belong in this industry. I feel like everybody is a pussy, and I ain’t no pussy, and I felt like I didn’t belong around all these pussy ass niggas.
How did you overcome feeling like you didn’t belong?
I made my own lane, the anti-pussy nigga lane so all the real niggas in my lane with me.
What is the most challenging part of being in the limelight? What is the most rewarding?
The love and the love.
The love for both? Love from who exactly?
My fans, sometimes it be too much love, its invasive.
Speaking of love, a question that’s been on my mind lately is whether it’s possible for anyone to really focus on themselves when they are in a relationship. I’m in my mid-20s, deeply in love, and finally settling into my lifelong career. And I’m wondering, do you personally feel inspired by love or distracted by it?
Love distracts you. But then, it’s about if the love is worth the distraction, that’s what defines real love. Love isn’t the only thing that can distract you. There’s always going to be something else you have to entertain and anytime you’re focused on more than one thing you’re going to be distracted, naturally. But if the love is real, and it’s good then it’s worth the distraction to me.
Mmm, yes I agree. I guess at the end of the day it’s really just a matter of asking yourself…
“Is this bitch worth it?”
I couldn’t have worded that better myself. So, when a “bitch is worth it” what is your go-to “seduction” song? When you’re trying to set the mood, what is the one song that “gets you going?”
You mean the song I play if I’m trying to fuck?
Exactly. What song do you play when you’re trying to fuck?
Man, I don’t need to be playing no song, I’ve got soft ass hands.
What’s it like to be in the studio with 21 Savage? Are you serious? Playful?
It depends where I’m at. If I’m in LA the vibe in the studio isn’t going to be the same as it is when I’m in Atlanta.
Do you have a preference?
Honestly, I prefer going to work by myself. I like to go into the studio alone a lot with just the engineer and myself. Even when I’m working on collaboration, I prefer to just record my part of the song on my own.
Do you remember the moment you signed your first big deal? The first time you had REAL money in the bank?
I had REAL money in the bank before signing with anyone, I’ve been had money but not like this though. I had dope boy money. I used to rob so I might be broke as hell two years straight then come up with 100,000.
ut when I started rapping it didn’t start making REAL industry money right away. I went through a lot of steps to get here. It wasn’t like I went from point a to point b just like that. I went from doing free shows to playing shows for $500 to $1,500, to finally getting here. I’ve seen every stage of this game.
What stage of the process proved to be the most difficult for you?
Playing at the goddam clubs, like the hood shit and your money never really being guaranteed right after the performance. Now it’s like everything in the account.
What role does God play in your life?
Ifá is my religion. I serve my ancestors, that’s what I call god. I feed them every week, I cook for them, and they always have glasses of water to drink from.
Ahh yes, I do that as well, except in my culture we call it an ofrenda. We light candles, leave out sweets, and all of our ancestor’s favorite meals.
Yea, it’s a lot like that.
Do you feel like your ancestors are favoring you now and lightning this path of success for you?
Yes. I feel my ancestors with me every day. I feel them in my body and my mind.
What is your favorite part of the process? Producing, writing or performing?
Writing and producing. I love to create.
Which song of yours is your favorite from your most recent album and why?
FAMOUS. Cuz it’s one of the more personal songs on the album for me.
What is the most “savage” thing you’ve ever done? What is the most “savage” thing that has ever been done to you?
A nigga shot me, shit. That’s probably the most savage thing that’s ever been done to me. My best friend crossed me, and I crossed his ass back. I’ve crossed everybody who’s ever crossed me.
What’s on the horizon for you? What’s your next move?
More success and more happiness.
If someone who’s never heard your music before were reading this interview, what would you want them to take away from this? What word would you want them to think of when they hear the name 21 Savage?
Authentic. That’s what defines me.