On Thursday evening (June 1), 21 Savage released a new single, entitled “All the Smoke,” along with a gory set of visuals to supplement it. While 21 has played with nefarious themes in his past videos, including gunning a man down in “No Heart,” this is true horror.
“All the Smoke” offers a visual experience I’ve wanted the 24-year-old to express for a while now—the combination of his nonchalant flow and disturbing lyrics mirroring the disconnect in a person’s psyche we love to see played out in slasher flicks. His production selections tend to lean towards the darker side of trap too, which only furthers the track's nihilistic tone. 808 Mafia, Metro, even Zaytoven or Mike WiLL Made-It on certain days, over ICYTWAT, K Swisha or Burberry Perry.
For “All The Smoke,” Southside’s production sets the tone at a level John Carpenter would appreciate by opening with simple, high piano chords. Once you’ve got the chills, he brings in a stabbing bass and his characteristic oozing hi-hats that give us a taste of what’s to come. The camera alternates between 21 delivering his relaxed lines on dilapidated bleachers and a scene of carefree young adults partying in the woods. In horror films, nights of debauchery end in bloodshed and “All the Smoke” holds to this formula. The evening is quickly interrupted by a masked killer who methodically picks off members of the group.
Director Matthew Swinsky’s creative direction for “All The Smoke” is pure bloodlust, a thirst for killing that would make even Game of Thrones producers question their existence. He’s no stranger to this type of direction either, having engineered the equally shocking video for Black Lips’ “Boys in the Woods.”
As “All the Smoke” continues, each murder raises the gore bar further, escalating from stabbing to decapitation to death by hammer. And that’s actually a good thing. It’s hard to watch, but it works in much the same way 21 Savage’s music is hard to listen to if you remove the cultural veneer that lets us indulge in audio tales of violence.
Swinsky presents extended shots of the murders in a manner consistent with the detail 21 provides of his grimy life before rap, but just like we keep bobbing our heads to his music, it’s hard to turn away from the visual accompaniment.
The last 10 seconds of video is a shot of 21 Savage staring directly into the camera lens. It’s humanizing and terrifying at the same time. The image serves as a reminder that the same traps that manifested for 21 Savage can, and probably are, manifesting quietly in our own lives. A physical trap is spirit-breaking, as are the socio-economic conditions that produce it. But being trapped internally, held down by the mind’s chains, is so common a pitfall that we accept it as the baseline for existence.
It might be inappropriate to point out a problem like this without offering at least the beginnings of a solution, but “whereof one cannot speak, one must be silent.”
21 appears to have left his street life behind, but the even harsher realities behind those external actions continue to permeate his music. Now he has a horror film abstracting, repackaging, and delivering them in a more visceral form. If we don’t pay attention, they could catch us too as we’re trying to escape.