If there was a clear and consensual pecking order to Chicago’s rap history disguised as a family dinner, this is what I would imagine it’d look like: you’d have outlandish parent Kanye West at the head of the table, serving up a sweet tray of Italian beef sandwiches to his loving family. Then you’d have young Chano, the impressive young student with straight A’s, propped at the table, hungry and waiting for his chance (pun intended) to snag the best sandwich. Arriving fashionably late are the funky uncles, Common, Lupe Fiasco and Twista, local legends who know the nitpicky tips and tricks of life and love to make casual cameos. Then you’d have cousins Noname, Vic Mensa and G Herbo making noise as they enter the house starving for their spot to taste the best.
It wasn’t until April 5th that young Saba, the talented friend of Chance, stepped into that house and was welcomed as one of the more integral parts of this family. Of course, April 5th was the day that Saba’s sophomore follow-up to the 2016 Bucket List Project, CARE FOR ME, was released. Bucket List Project – a happy-go-lucky effort – was a pleasant project, but it didn’t necessarily raise Saba to notoriety. That trend, however, didn’t carry on for Saba. CARE FOR ME sounds more like a doyen’s defining work than an overshadowed fledgling’s sophomore slump.
Emotive narration and storytelling is the boat of Saba’s voyage. There is nothing too taboo for Saba to remember. Whether it’s talking about the lack of rawness in music today (“GREY”), his family’s southern roots (“SMILE”), or the murder of his friend (“BUSY/SIRENS”), Saba connects his life to his artistic canvas with pointillism. Every dot spans colorful spectrums full of sonic perceptions.
Production-wise, CARE FOR ME embodies Chicago’s music history with lush interpolations of everything from Chopper and Drill music to Chipmunk soul and Gospel rap. Nearly every track has faltering guitars or a fierce, yet solitary piano that sets the mood. Notably, “FIGHTER (featuring KAINA)” and “LOGOUT (featuring Chance the Rapper)” incorporate succinct drumkits and fanciful melodies to accentuate the audible elements of each song.
What really polishes this project and puts it on top of a pedestal are the phenomenal outros that tie knots onto thematic expressions. On “CALLIGRAPHY,” Saba channels his inner-808s-Kanye and sings with heavy autotuned and phaser effects at the tail-end of the track. He sings “I can’t get out of it, I’m not mad at God/ But I can’t get out of it, makes me runnin’ away.” Here, Saba introspectively and heart-wrenchingly comes to terms with harsh realities of gang culture and violence in his hometown through writing. Consequentially, “CALLIGRAPHY” precedes “FIGHTER,” which is strictly about facing your fears and living past them. Often throughout this album, one will find the layering and weaving of thematic layers like this.
CARE FOR ME is clearly the standout rap project to this point in 2018. It even has the potential to wind up being the best project overall after this year is finished. For sure though, CARE FOR ME is the launching pad to greater things for Saba. Not only will he be regarded as the next-up MC for Chicago rap, he should be welcomed into most of, if not all of, people’s lives as a figure of inspiration and triumph. Not many people can understand what Saba has been through, but CARE FOR ME is the healing potion for the darkest of times.