By Rahul Lal

21 Savage had a hugely successful 2016, propelling himself to the top of the charts and linking up with top producers and artists to make hits. It’s always been about “securing the bag” for him but, more than anything, he wants to stay true to himself as an artist and really reflect who he is as a person in his music. In an interview with Play.It’s Rap Radar podcast, he sat down with hosts Elliott Wilson and Brian “B.Dot” Miller to talk about the industry, his inspirations and his influences.

“I just don’t want to be that artist that needs a hit to survive,” said 21. “I would rather have bodies of work that people love than just [be] the radio guy. I have to give them a project every time instead of a single and not overflood or drop too much music. I see a lot of n—–s drop like every other month, you’re giving them too much. You got to give them time to digest and force them to listen to this over and over.”

While Young Savage was already popular among hip-hop fans in 2015 because of the popularity of mixtapes The Slaughter Tape, Slaughter King and his first EP Free GuWop, he turned into a sensation after the release of Savage Mode in July 2016. Each one of these projects were released independently. Recently, Savage signed with Epic Records and most of that decision rests on his trust in industry legend L.A. Reid.

Related: Drake Drops Grainy, Old-School Video for ‘Sneakin” with 21 Savage

“’Cause he’s black,” responded 21 when asked specifically why L.A. Reid would understand him as opposed to many other major label heads. “He’s probably the last black CEO so why not? He would understand me from anybody else, nobody else will understand me. I wanted to sign to somebody who would believe in me, understand me. I started seeing him, chopping it up. He’s a legend. He had everybody, man. Them is all legends, Babyface, TLC, Usher.”

Savage acknowledged those legends both in and out of the genre. Savage named Dipset as his all-time favorite group going as far to say he wanted to be Juelz Santana. Other artists like Pimp C, UGK, 50 Cent, Gucci Mane, Three 6 Mafia and even N.W.A. were massive inspirations for him and the growth of his music.

While he’s known for having some of the hardest music in the game today, he also grew up drawing inspiration from R&B artists like Xscape, Keith Sweat, Dru Hill, R. Kelly and Usher. He even said that he would love to have the opportunity to record a song with a group like Jagged Edge, an interesting revelation, given that Savage is very selective about who he chooses to work with. Also, he notes that he isn’t looking for any friendships in the industry either.

“I f— with a lot of rappers, I just don’t look for friendship with other rappers,” he said. “A lot of n—–s take it too far. This is just business. We can come together and do a song, that don’t mean I got to look at you like my friend because I know n—–s is fake. A lot of you n—–s ain’t real so I don’t expect that from them… I didn’t come here to make friends.”

Within a single month, he had launched himself to the level of releasing separate songs with both Drake and Meek Mill during their beef. Drake and 21 were friends enough to the point that Drake even bought him a drop-top Ferrari for his birthday back in October. The two have been friends before the national success really came because Drake recognized the Atlanta rapper’s talent early on. Many people tried to create beef between Savage and Tyga because he attempted to “shoot his shot” with Tyga’s girlfriend Kylie Jenner.

“She just shot me down,” he admitted playfully. “I didn’t even intend for it to be like all that s—. They made it seem like I had beef with Tyga. I don’t know Tyga, I don’t have beef with Tyga. It was just funny, you know what I’m saying? She fine, though, and I’d tear her a– up, straight up. I’m not even going to lie. She’s bad and I like her.”

21 has been shot six times and grew up under rough circumstances; and he stresses that you don’t want to get on his bad side because he isn’t going to back down.

“Don’t play with 21,” he said to critics and other artists who may try to start some beef. “You’re disrespecting my people who are dead behind this s—. They ran my neighborhood, where I’m from and we grew up together and I started rocking with them. That s— is real. It’s not fabricated, I’m not trying to be nothing that I’m not. I’m not trying to make myself seem super gangster, this is my real life, though.”

To hear more the entire interview with 21 Savage where he goes on to talk about new work that will be put out in 2017 and more of his backstory, listen to the latest episode of Rap Radar on CBS Radio’s podcast network.

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