Rapper Saba's 'Care For Me' is Eulogy and a Breakthrough.
Words: Stephanie Dando
To those familiar with the Chicago rap scene, Saba won’t be a new name; member of the hip-hop collective PIVOT Gang, he fraternises with the likes of Mick Jenkins, Chance the Rapper, and Noname, the last of whose debut album Telefone Saba helped to produce. Saba’s newest album, CARE FOR ME, just might be the breakthrough of dreams. Deeply confessional poetry over caramel brown neo-Soul piano vibes makes the rapper’s fifth release to date a record you’ll marvel over, even if it besets you with a vague, nagging melancholy.
CARE FOR ME spans a mind unbalanced by grief. Topics range from not paying his girlfriend enough quality attention, to social media’s questionable dominance in modern life, to disappointing those he loves, it all circles back to the death of Saba’s cousin, John Walt – fellow PIVOT Gang member – who was stabbed to death last year. “Jesus got killed for our sins, Walter got killed for a coat,” Saba raps on the opening track. When I think of this album, I can feel it – bizarrely, considering that there were no such sound effects – raining in my head. That’s the tone of the desolation Saba weaves with glitchy piano ballads and a smooth yet distinct flow that never lets up.
Underpinning it all is a nuanced lyrical talent that makes me want to personally scold Saba’s grandfather, who hasn’t spoken to Saba since he dropped out of college; “he called me, said I’m a scholar, I should be getting’ my doctorate…instead, you chose hip-hop,” – Saba raps on ‘FIGHTER’. In ‘BROKEN GIRLS’, a track about two people who use each other so that, for a moment, they feel, ‘complete’, the twenty-three year-old rapper’s creation is nothing short of poetry. “Tread light like broken glass, really I’m not my past/Really I snatched your soul, really that’s not to brag…Really I know you’re empty but I think I can fill your glass”. But the young rapper’s lyrical talent can’t be ensconced in a few lines. Saba pens escapes and narratives that do a good job of manoeuvring the listener in the mental circles Saba finds himself in. This is something some listeners won’t like. Saba skitters across a wide margin of unbonded topics. CARE FOR ME is undeniably a hodge-podge.
But that’s something I like. The gravitational pull that bounds all the pieces that make up CARE FOR ME is, always, John Walt. A verse that you thought was about his failure to return his friends calls morphs into a eulogy for the brother that passed. “I’m havin’ a busy day, I’ll hit you back right away/I seen that skies were grey, I hope to God you’re safe.” In the closing track, ‘HEAVEN ALL AROUND ME’, the narrative transforms from being from Saba’s vantage point to, seemingly, the perspective of his late best friend. “Paramedics talk about what he need, he need his oxygen/They seem incompetent…I promise y’all I’m not a ghost…I can’t feel no pain and I can see the stars…there’s heaven all around me.” I think that’s where the rain comes from, in this heartbreakingly poignant eulogy, Saba seems positively, irrevocably drenched.
Words: Stephanie Dando