“The single the one that wasn't as honest, but this is what they say make you the hottest in the game, grey” — “GREY” by Saba off of the “CARE FOR ME” album.
Like most, my first encounter with Saba came on Chance the Rapper’s hit single “Angels” where Saba sang the infamous hook “I got Angels all around me they keep me surrounded.” Angels refers to many people, but, for the most part, it represents the kids of Chicago. Saba, like Chance, was born in Chicago and represents his community to the fullest in his music and attitude. He runs in crowds of other Chicago rappers including Noname and Smino, and has recently dropped a project titled, “You Can’t Sit with Us” with his own group of Chicago rappers called Pivot Gang. It's been four years since I was swept up by Saba’s deep smooth butter like voice on “Angels” and two albums later I believe he doesn’t receive the credit he deserves. Saba has one of the most unique voices and flows in the current rap scene. Pair that with his poetic lyrics, his motivation to be a storyteller, and his voice for his community puts him close to my top five. Here’s why you should know Saba’s name.
First and foremost, he’s poet. Yes, he's a rapper, but he's a poet. His unorthodox flow combined with heavily jazz influenced instrumentals give him more room and beats per measure to spend filling with interesting rhyme schemes and meaningful lyrics as opposed to if he was rapping over a basic trap beat. This is evident on tracks like “In Loving Memory,” the opening track to his first album “Bucket List Project.” Read this to get a sense of what I am speaking to.
Turn a obstacle obsolete
I believe I can fly, "R Kelly", awkwardly
Ain't really popular, prolly 'cause, they all doubted
But I was up while they slept
While they said I wouldn't amount to much, I was hit
I knew that if I ain't older, I turn a obstacle obsolete
Up the street where they bang, I ain't hang
Out the jam, wap da bam, I'll pretend all our friends still alive
Still apply for the fall, cap and gown, for the fail
Furthermore, first of all, curtain call, shirt and tie
I could try to analyze this, but I am no poetic scholar to claim I understand all of Saba’s wordsmithing. I put this here to instead show how Saba’s rhyme scheme and message is unique. Another way that Saba separates himself from others is his ability to utilize jazz and live instruments in almost all of his instrumentals on his newest album “CARE FOR ME.” Having beat switch ups into swing with improvised trumpet lines on tracks like “GREY” or mashing upright bass lines with trap beats to create a lo-fi vibe on “LIFE” are just some of the ways he accomplishes this.
Saba is an important artist for our generation because he is a storyteller. Originating from Chicago, Saba raps about gang violence in his area and the turmoil it has caused his family. He doesn’t stop there; Saba has songs on the dissonance technology can cause in “LOGOUT” (ft. Chance the Rapper) and his relationship turmoil and self confidence in “BROKEN GIRLS.” Possibly his best example of storytelling in music and one of the most impactful songs I have heard in years is “PROM/KING,” which tells the story of how his cousin, Walter, was murdered over gang related issues. Saba is a force to be reckoned with and I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years we were saying his name with just as much weight as Chance.
Come to Mayfest to see Saba perform Care for Me live as well as other tracks from Pivot Gang and Bucket List Project.
By Jackson Siporin