21 Savage’s commitment to telling the stories of life in Atlanta’s Zone 6 isn’t new. The East Atlanta rapper has been repping the neighborhood he grew up in, and rapping about the violence and pain that he’s encountered (and inflicted) since he first stepped into a recording booth.
Now, ahead of his sophomore solo album I Am > I Was, Savage is hoping to help fans visualize the neighborhood they’ve been hearing about for years. Opening Tuesday, Motel 21, is an interactive pop up that transforms the rooms at a seedy motel on Glenwood Road in East Atlanta into a visual depiction of the forthcoming album. Actors clean handguns and assault rifles, twerk on a pole, count cash and more inside the pop-up.
At a media night ahead of the pop-up’s opening, Savage’s manager Justin “Meezy” Williams emphasized the significance of the motel’s location.
“This is where [Savage] was raised,” Williams said of the neighborhood, noting the rapper’s brother was killed right across the street from the motel. “We can walk to the apartments where he [grew up],” he added.
Williams said hosting the pop-up in this location was done intentionally, so that fans could immerse themselves in the neighborhood that inspires Savage’s music. Walking around the motel should give fans a unique glimpse into the rapper’s thought process when he was conceiving the new music.
As fans enter the motel, they first encounter black walls that have painted butterflies with bullets for bodies. The words “I Was,” “Monster,” “Paddlock,” “Goodday,” “I Am,” “Friends,” “Smoke,” and “Ball” fill the spaces between the butterflies. Upstairs, various rooms were curated to depict songs from I Am > I Was. Snippets of songs from the album will play in each room.
In one room, for example, a man sits at a table surrounded by weapons. “Savage why you always rapping about gunsmoke/ ‘Cause bitch I fell in love with the gunsmoke,” the rapper is heard saying in a snippet as the actor cleans handguns and assault rifles. Smoke fills the room as Savage repeatedly says “gunsmoke.”
An ATM machine spits out money in another room, as a woman dances around a pole on a stage. Fans who enter the makeshift strip club shouldn’t expect to just stand around and listen to Savage rap about his love of “ass and titties,” though; the actors will comment if you’re not making it rain.
In another room, an actress playing an obsessive fan will yell at you if you mention Amber Rose to her. She shuffles around the room, which features maps, photos (including one of Savage with Rose, his ex-girlfriend, whose face has been cut out) and the rapper’s leftovers from a meal at Chick-Fil-A. She promises aloud, but to no in particular, to eventually stalk and meet the love of her life. In another room, a woman lays across a bed in red lingerie.
Like the previously-mentioned rooms, it’s hard to know exactly how some of the imagery depicted in each room will play out on I Am > I Was, but the exhibit makes it clear Savage will tackle a diverse range of subjects on the project, including love, fandom and, yes, gunsmoke.
Motel 21 is open through Dec. 21, when Savage will release I Am > I Was. The attraction opens at 6:00 p.m. each night. Savage’s team expects the line for the interactive exhibit to be wrapped around the motel building ahead of the album’s Friday release. Fans can RSVP online before they go.