SABA

★★★★★
Introspective and impassioned, Chicago rapper Saba’s second studio album “Care for Me” pairs clever wordplay with impeccable flow. The 10-song collection demonstrates Saba’s magnetic storytelling ability and earns him a place among the best up-and-coming rappers.

Saba, born Tahj Malik Chandler, released his first project “GETCOMFORTable” in 2012.  He gained notoriety in 2013 for his verse on “Everybody’s Something” on Chance the Rapper’s breakout mixtape “Acid Rap.”  Since then, Saba has worked with numerous top names in Chicago, including Noname and Twista and contributed to Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment’s album “Surf.”  At 23, Saba’s promising career is just beginning. With over 20 stops left in his national “Care For Me Tour,” be sure to catch this rising lyricist across the country.

In February 2017, Saba’s cousin, role model, wingman and fellow rapper Walter Long Jr. was fatally stabbed. The assailant followed Long for half a block to make sure he died. Performing under the stage name dinnerwithjohn, Long was also a founding member of Saba’s Pivot Gang rap collective. “Care for Me” tracks Saba’s attempt to reconcile the fact that Long — who was always there for him — would not be any longer.

The album begins with the line “I’m so alone.” Looking for companionship after the death of his cousin, Saba becomes aware that he has destroyed many of his relationships.  The opening track, “Busy / Sirens” declares, “If my past could talk / it’d probably reply to the missed calls after all / Cause the friendships that I can’t recall, done turned my heart into camouflage.”  Saba has let his friendships wither; now no one can see his heart.

Saba then seeks romantic relationships to find solace. In his song “Broken Girls,” Saba reflects that, “Really I’m broke myself, and I think she might help.”  Despairingly, female companionship fails to fill the void brought on by the death of his cousin.

His feelings of solitariness are only compounded by the paradox of the modern age; in a time where people are more interconnected than ever, Saba feels completely alone.  The song “Logout” describes how social media has made him a different person, always seeking validation and the rush from a buzz of his cellphone.

He sings, “If you press logout, you get forgotten / What’s a post, but a reminder of just how boring our lives ar-ar-ar-are.”  Saba sends a deeply personal message about his insecurities. Yet, this message rings true across the generation, reflecting on the harmful effects of social media that often leave its users dejected and dependent.

Thus far, Saba has depicted a hopeless reality. These feelings culminate in the most moving song on the album, “PROM / KING.”  The candid and diaristic lyricism depict Saba’s most private thoughts and vulnerabilities.  The song begins with Saba’s awkward teenage phase, where he lightheartedly giggles as his grandfather hands him a condom.  His adolescent worries are soothed by his blooming relationship with Long, who, among other gestures, finds him a date for prom.  These descriptions of innocence only make the song more harrowing, as the listener anticipates what is to come.

Halfway through, the tone shifts and the song turns into a cacophony of fiery drums and fast-paced lyricism.  The tension rises and though chaos ensues, Saba’s immaculate lyricism is not comprised, each word fitting perfectly to make the listener feel his pain and sorrow. As the song progresses, the pain in his voice becomes tangible.  The story culminates with the moment Saba learns Long is missing, and he raps, “We got in the car, but we didn’t know where to drive to / Fuck it, wherever you are my n—a, we’ll come and find you.”

At this point, the tension is released — leaving the listener with the tragic knowledge that Saba will not reach his cousin in time.

Just when it feels like there is no hope left, the final track “Heaven All Around Me” provides a glimmer of light.  Saba assumes Long’s point of view as he leaves the Earth, taken to a better place.  He raps, “Walking through the crowd, they share tears / I know I did not disappear.”

Saba and the Pivot Gang created the non-profit John Walt Foundation to work with young Chicago artists after their friend’s 2017 death. Though Long has passed, his legacy lives on.

Unsparing and at points despondent, “Care for Me” has a sobering effect on listeners. It beautifully incorporates elements of neo-soul and jazz and will certainly leave its mark on modern hip-hop.

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