It’s a cliche, but it’s also mostly accurate: There’s a difference between a rapper and an MC. For all the praise the hip-hop community has heaped on rap neophyte 21 Savage, his halftime performance at last night’s Atlanta Hawks game proves that not every good rapper is equally good at mastering ceremonies, so to speak.
It’s just not that Savage’s lethargic delivery is uniquely ill-suited to a large-scale event like an NBA arena halftime performance. You can actually see his discomfort with the whole situation. He kind of wanders aimlessly around the court, rapping along to his vocals (really, just occasionally barking the ad-libs or the endings of bars), and in general, struggling to find the beat (although that could be a sound issue — in-ear monitors can have issues that make hearing the sound difficult at best, and dang near impossible inside an loud, packed NBA arena).
Given the entire learning curve of recording artistry has essentially been reversed by the internet and streaming services, who can really blame 21 or any other new artist for not honing this aspect of their craft before they’re ready? His Slaughter Tape skyrocketed him to fame, his Issa Album debut went gold on a largely non-traditional promotional cycle, and he’s stayed relevant throughout his rise by a combination of savvy collaborations and social media popularity rather than performing live shows on the underground circuit until he blew up. All in all, one or two bad performances are no big deal, as long as Savage learns, adapts, and grows as an artist — as he should.