21 Savage May Be an R&B Singer Stuck in a Rapper’s Body
21 Savage loves a good slow jam. Among the Atlanta rapper’s many quirks is his propensity to hop on Instagram Live and sing R&B classics, like Aaliyah’s cover of the Isley Brothers’ “At Your Best (Let Me Know)” to Diddy, Usher, and Loon’s 2002 hit, “I Need A Girl (Part 1)” in an off-key, yet entertaining, falsetto squeal. What makes the ritual more endearing is that it doesn’t seem at all performative: For all of 21 Savage’s deadpanned lyrics about intense violence, he seems to adore the emotional complexity of R&B.
On his latest single, “Secret,” 21 teams up with Summer Walker and tries to recapture some of that magic of yore by rapping over a sample of Xscape’s 1998 song, “My Little Secret.” It’s a hard pivot.
21 Savage’s voice is often delivered at a monotone, a near-emotionless void that helps lend gravitas to his intense stories of pain and poverty. “Secret,” in contrast, is a love story featuring Savage’s penchant for lyrical specificity. Throughout his two verses, 21 describes his partner in exacting detail. She has dark skin with brown eyes, is 5′ 8,” and drives a broken down Kia. The couple has known each other since sixth grade and, at one point, Savage tried to hide a gun in her book-bag. Even at his most heartfelt, he still sounds slightly menacing.
“Secret” may not be the classic rap and R&B crossover that Savage would sacrifice his favorite knife to have in his collection, but it’s a start. R&B Rome wasn’t built in a day.