It’s a secret that’s becoming harder and harder to hide: the fearless faces of depressive hip-hop mask a greater era of anxiety that’s seeking safety in lo-fi beats peppered with schoolyard nostalgia. California-based musician Brennan Savage is being heard loud in this underground despite exuding more understated vibes. While appeals to emo in rap often reflect the over-the-top aesthetics and sweet beats of MySpace, Savage lends his hand at some of the most iconic aspects of ever-earnest nu metal. Such a point of view lends itself to bursting at the seams as commenters on his viral music videos anticipate exponential growth throughout the next year. Meditative and down-to-earth, Savage’s appeal lies in restraint. Instead of pushing an absolute stance on optimism, his reworking of radio rock riffs and soft-spoken spoken word builds a space where the mind can unwind enough to draw its own conclusions, or rather, tune out entirely.
While the 22-year-old now runs the gamut in terms of influences, early track “Juice” is more of a typical come-up story over an ethereal trap beat. As he’s come to cultivate his raw talent and signature bleached curls, he’s grown into his own while still rubbing antennas with other melancholic colleagues. Savage’s collaboration with emo mainstay Lil Lotus on “All White Dress” brings a whole new meaning to alternative metal as Lotus’ bright, pop-punk belt-outs give way to a Foo Fighters-esque outro. Despite adding abrasive influences to hip-hop, Savage makes it all feel so easy. While other talents like Ghostemane are hailed for their size-up of sensationalized metal, Savage is drawn to early 2000’s talents who departed quietly into the night, but still have us screaming every word when their songs come on shuffle.
Perhaps most notably to metal fans, self-produced title track of last fall’s Badlands is grounded in an acoustic rendition of System of a Down’s “Aerials,” highlighting the beautiful composition of Serj Tankian and Daron Malakian while still wearing the face of a savage. The rapper also does not shy away from occasional old-school Bush-era political appeals, treading into waters that have been largely neglected by 2010’s rap and metal alike. In the ominous “Kill,” Savage cleverly weaves “fuck Donald Trump he ain’t leading the nation/he might be rich but he act like a bitch” in between lines about pill popping, hard work, and diamond bracelets. Much like Fat Nick and Bexey, Savage also speaks substantively about Lil Peep, whose jarring loss is memorialized in the rappers’ emotional posts that still pour in six months later. Yet, through the more difficult topics that Savage addresses, there is an element of escapism written into the comfort of an atmospheric cadence and the hits of yesteryear.
Most recently, Savage took to Twitter to tease a new EP that’s allegedly ready to drop at a moment’s notice. It’s unclear if it will include more odes to vein-coursers like Deftones’ “Change” or Senses Fail’s “Lady in a Blue Dress,” but last week’s single “Breathe” (prod. Betteroffdead & Captain Crunch) may provide a clue. Pure and poignant, the love song does what host Astari’s content does best—pull at your heartstrings while keeping your mind at ease. While the simpler days are gone, Savage is a reminder that salvation can be sought in reliving the same routine before skating off to school. The passing of time only brings new perspective on past glory, prompting us to salvage the good parts and shine them up like new.