Nothing wrong with that score though…
Joshua Copperman: Every time I’ve put “No Heart” on I’ve been riveted, and rarely skipped it. I’ve never been one to value authenticity over everything else, but I think that’s what draws me to this particular song. There isn’t even much to “No Heart” — just sleepy delivery of lines like “young Savage, why you trappin’ so hard?”, and what’s apparently a reference to a real killing that actually happened holy shit. It’s difficult to imagine what must be going on in 21 Savage’s head when he raps — something like Max Rockatansky’s hallucinations, I’m assuming. Metro Boomin does his best to capture it with that soundscape, and that’s justice enough, but it’s still hard to comprehend anything about Savage himself. This song has such a bizarre internal logic that I would almost compare it to Wesley Willis, though Savage is still more lucid. Other verses and songs I’ve heard from him are closer to generic trap, which is worrying, but I still find it hard to look away from this song in particular. In conclusion: Rock over London. Rock on, Chicago.
Ryo Miyauchi: 21 gives threats with a stony coldness of a statue while Metro’s equally chilly beat barely shows a pulse. It’s not a lack of energy as much as it is a lack of humanity — a remove from violence reminiscent to Chief Keef’s. His heartless description of bloodshed is frightening, but what really runs a chill down my spine is his brief autobiography from 7th to 9th grade. Safety, dreams, ambition: the death of each turn 21’s heart blacker and blacker.
Iain Mew: No heart, no hope, and the doleful bell toll of the production makes carries through grimly and compellingly.
Alfred Soto: Metro Boomin beats aren’t infallible; they require performers who can fill the spaces between the percussive whirrs and clicks. Rasping and mumbling like an Isaiah Rashad without a single concession to likability or consensus, 21 Savage sketches a life of unrelenting grimness. It does go on a bit, the darkness at the edge of town all-pervasive.
Jonathan Bradley: 21 Savage has some questions, some not worth answering (pass on discovering the real reason why he’s pulling all these rapper’s cards), and some of which enquiring minds really do want to know: why does he have a twelve-car garage? “No Heart” is an origin story for this up-and-comer, taking him from Cat in the Hat to Stuart Little to Nintendo to seventh grade gun-charges and a brief stint on the gridiron. Especially as smothered by Metro Boomin’s typically languid beat, the drama is dulled by the recitation. I like the argument he has with an unidentified rival, which builds in intensity before Savage realizes he can’t be bothered anyway: “fuck all that, ask your bitch how my dick tastes” is his intentionally lazy parting shot. His performance, however, is filled with effort, and I wonder why it doesn’t pay off better. With his personality better established, he might find better use for his talents (there’s a lot of weighing dope and designer label accessorizing in the gaps between his more creative images), but I wonder also if he might be the trap J. Cole: a rapper with some smart lines and none of the presence to sustain them.
Anjy Ou: Savage delivers his lines with cool confidence and restraint, as if he almost couldn’t be bothered with his haters, but there’s a thin line that they’re in danger of crossing and he’s just reminding them where it is. Matched with Metro Boomin’s hazy production, it’s a chill track with a hint of danger lurking beneath it — you can’t afford to get too comfortable here, no matter how tempting. It’s a walk along a knife’s edge, but they do it skilfully. No wonder the internet loves this.
Maxwell Cavaseno: One of my favorite debates I ever saw was occasional TSJ contributor Tara Hillegeist (one of my favorite current writers and a gem of a person) on the merits of deathmatch wrestler Nick Gage being the subject of a hypothetical film by Lars von Trier. A key concept mentioned was that Gage, a man who commits brutal acts of self-mutilation and reciprocates damage to a “combatant” who may do likewise to him, possessed a lack of self-awareness and shame when committing to this untenable way of life. He appeared, in many ways, like the void that threatens to consume protagonists for von Trier, or Rob Zombie’s conception of evil, in that despite everything, he isn’t broken; he breaks everything else. I don’t enjoy the trope that rap producers (or any musical figure) should be beholden to auteur theory, but given a remarkable stretch of work this decade, I could recognize Metro Boomin’s ability to complement the subjects for whom he provides trappings presents 21 Savage’s cruelty in the way von Trier might present Gage. The greater irony is both subjects often remain for people blessed by internet voyeurism’s eternal hunt for new fantastic curiosa, proven by Vice documenting deathmatches and trappers with equally perverse detachment. Perhaps they thought they kept their audiences safe from the undesirables who actually consider these people who thrive in the cruelty their personal champions and give the absurdity of their subjects a “freak appeal.” But while the sadomasochistic shock and awe of those deathmatches remain fringe, the maudlin notes of “No Heart” have become a particular anthem for those looking to drape themselves in unmistakable malice to a frightening turn to power in such a dark time. To turn another phrase from Hillgeist, “No Heart” is a song that lets you know that “the wolf is never far from your door.”