Continue to overlook rapper Saba at your own peril. Yet another in a laundry list of bright young voices from Chicago, his sophomore album CARE FOR ME is a strong contender for hip-hop album of the year only four months into 2018. He’s already proven his ability as a lyricist on his debut album Bucket List Project and his impressive mixtape ComfortZone, and now, he’s once again in his pocket, with a renewed vigor and purpose that permeates his music.
Fifty-seven seconds into the intro song “BUSY/SIRENS,” we hear our first reference to John Walt, Saba’s fellow Pivot Gang member who was murdered in early 2017. Throughout the album, Saba is an open book about the impact that losing such a close friend had on his life, influencing the overall themes of self-care and loneliness behind CARE FOR ME. On the brilliant yet haunting two-part “PROM / KING,” this emotion comes to a head, as Saba poetically timelines his relationship with Walt and the fateful moments that led to his sudden death.
“We never really got along or used to kick it/In fact, if I remember vividly, he picked on me/He used to beat me up and take my sneakers every family visit,” Saba reveals on the first half of the song, causing him to hesitate when Walt offers to set him up with a date to senior prom. As the song unfolds, however, the two form a stronger bond until a sudden beat switch just before the fourth minute, when the blistering drum loop intensifies the pace and increases the urgency of the song. The passion in Saba’s cracking voice grows to a boiling point as he approaches the moment when he heard the news of Walt’s fatal stabbing, cutting off at the end to let Walt’s voice end the story with the touching refrain: “I just hope I make it ’til tomorrow.”
CARE FOR ME’s thesis is evident on the chorus of the pensive “CALLIGRAPHY” — “I just got tired of running away, running away/Everybody leaving, I write them away, write them away” Saba rhymes, over sparse piano chords that create a well-suited ambiance for the song. On this song as well as several others, fresh instrumentation and trap-influenced basslines combine for a formidable duo, housing Saba’s introspective verses with some of the best production he’s seen to date.
The Chance the Rapper-assisted “LOGOUT” follows the same formula and finds the same success, as Saba delves into the excessive use of social media and its negative side-effects. Chance closes the song with a 12-bar ventilation that ties the track together nicely, adding to a long line of solid collaborations between the two Chicago stars.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a fan of Saba who thought the success of his debut album Bucket List Project was a flash in the pan, but now the follow-up project verifies that the artist still has more to tell, with increased maturity that makes his messages resonate even deeper. In a year that has been somewhat underwhelming thus far in terms of hip-hop releases, CARE FOR ME is an early gem that deserves to be in the best albums conversation at the end of 2018, and has the potential to make Saba into a true household name going forward.
Why I’m Smiling: All the new music from last Friday
The morning after Saba gave us CARE FOR ME, the rest of the music world responded in spectacular fashion, with a treasure trove of new albums from fellow rising stars. Kali Uchis’ Isolation, Tom Misch’ Geography and Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy all lived up to lofty expectations, while Alina Baraz snuck the surprise album The Color of You and stole a spot near the top of the weekend’s charts. Drake gifted the culture with a preemptive summer anthem in “Nice For What,” which almost made Friday too much to bear; there was simply new material for every music fan, and more than enough to choose from.
Why I’m Shaking My Head: Killer Mike gets dragged by Joy-Ann Reid on Instagram
Only a few weeks after turning heads with his interview with the National Rifle Association about black gun ownership (and subsequently apologizing for how the NRA used the interview out of context with March for Our Lives), Killer Mike deemed it a good time to jab at Joy-Ann Reid after he assumed she was working with H&M, a company also tainted with allegations of racial insensitivity. As she was instead simply abbreviating “hair & makeup” she made quick work of embarrassing the Atlanta rapper, who found himself backpedaling and apologizing once again. We ride with Killer Mike here at “To Pen a Butterfly,” but after two easily avoidable incidents like these, it might be best for him to simply lay low for the time being.
Why I’m Hopeful: Q-Tip to teach NYU music course on intersection between jazz and hip-hop
Is there any better artist to teach this course than such an integral member of A Tribe Called Quest, the pivotal group that beautifully merged the two genres throughout their discography? Kudos to the many colleges and high schools who have embraced hip-hop in their curriculums in recent years, and especially to New York University for approaching the topic from a different angle and nominating the perfect man for the job.
Kenan Draughorne is a junior majoring in journalism. He is also the lifestyle editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “To Pen a Butterfly,” runs Mondays.