21 Savage tells a story how one shooting motivated him to climb from nothing to Ferrari
The bullets flew on the night 21 Savage turned 21 years old. Just before midnight on a Tuesday in October 2013, Savage — born Shayaa Joseph — was ambushed on the east side of his hometown Atlanta and shot six times before he could grab the perpetrator’s gun and fire back. His attacker was arrested; Savage was rushed to a hospital with his first gunshot wounds, according to Billboard magazine
Savage doesn’t avoid the topic, but he doesn’t give much detail, either. “It just made me slow down in the street,” says the 24-year-old. “I had to find something else to do. So rapping was what I did.”
Three years later, 21 Savage — the “21“ is taken from his block growing up, the “Savage’ from his pre-rapping, gun-toting life — is the hottest young rapper among hip-hop’s elite. Along with his single “X” (featuring Future), which is No. 37 on the Dec. 10 Billboard Hot 100, Savage recently hopped on Meek Mill’s
“Offended” as well as “Sneakin'” from frequent Meek adversary Drake, acting as a neutral party between two warring rap titans.
“They both want to be No. 1, so they’re just competing,” Savage says dismissively. “Beef, to me, is like when n—as are ready to kill each other. That’s the beef I’m used to.”
Savage was expelled from the public school system of Georgia’s Dekalb County for bringing a gun to class in the seventh grade, and dropped out by ninth grade. Another local rapper, Key! from the group Two-9, introduced him to producers Sonny Digital and Metro Boomin. Soon, Savage was developing his skills on “Skrrt Skrrt” and” Woah,” both of which appeared on his debut, The Slaughter Tape, in May 2015.
Two more projects. Free Guwop and Slaughter King, drew label attention in 2015, but it wasn’t until the July release of Savage Mode that his eerily calm delivery over spare, menacing beats congealed into a distinct aesthetic.
Savage Mode arrived on his own imprint, Slaughter Gang, and as the album kept climbing — it is No. 35 on the Billboard 200 in its 19th week, while “X” and “No Heart” (No. 57) continue rising up the Hot 100 — it caught the attention of Drake, who called him a “young king with all the juice right now” on Instagram in October. (Drake also recently gifted him a red Ferrari, according to Savage.) Drake’s “Sneakin” became Savage’s highest-charting hit to date following its October release, reaching No. 28 on the Hot 100, and in early November, he signed with Epic Records.
“Major [labels] should be like the NBA: You should have to go to college, train, go to practice, camp, try out,” he says. “I done did the hard work. It didn’t just come to me because I got a cool song and my pop owned a label.”
Savage will en 2016 on the road supporting Young Thug, before he gets to work on what will be his major-label debut. He says he is looking forward to “making my money, keeping my head down” and not getting caught up in hip- hop luxury.
“I represent a n—a coming from nothing to something — shit, I got three songs on the Billboard chart and a Ferrari.” He pauses and shrugs. “I don’t know how else to explain it.”