21 Savage’s “Nothing New” Is Conscious Rap, Too

The label “conscious rap” has been lovingly bestowed onto a myriad of MCs over the years as recognition of a higher art form, from Kweli and Kanye to Chance and Joey Bad. Those guys are eloquent and great at what they do, but fancy alliteration and triple entendres aren’t the only methods to presenting social commentary. With the video for “Nothing New,” a standout off 21 Savage’s sophomore LP Issa Album, the Atlanta rapper offers up a sharp observation of a complex, cyclical issue—perhaps surprising to those who write him off as a mumble rapper who says little of anything.

The video opens with brief clips of LeBron James, Barack Obama and Colin Kaepernick discussing racial inequality. It proceeds to tell a horrid tale of a poor black family destroyed by awful scenarios: an eviction notice on the door, a mother addicted to drugs, a male figure in jail, and the child of the family left to fend for himself. The dire circumstances lead the child to take a gun stashed away in the household to attempt an armed robbery. Police later track him down, shooting and killing him as he surrenders.

It’s a pretty layered storyline to fit into a video that clocks in at less than five minutes, but that’s sort of 21’s style: concise and to the point. And it resonates. Rather than follow an arc that begins and ends with police brutality, 21 highlights the different elements—many of which fall under the umbrella of systemic racism and oppression—that contribute to the moment a surrendering life is taken by law enforcement. It’s an excellent concept, and one of the better pieces of commentary on race in America in hip hop this year. And it comes effortlessly to 21.

“They thought I only rapped about murder and pistols / I’m trying to feed my family, I ain’t being political.”

Watch “Nothing New” above.

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