Saba is a Westside Chicago rapper who operates within (and often collaborates with) the creative company of Noname, Phoelix, Smino, Mick Jenkins, and Jean Deux — all being Windy City natives representing artistic ambitions that mirror Chance the Rapper’s, in terms of production styles and distribution methods. Saba’s latest release, Care for Me, feels like a stark departure from the sound of his debut album — the hopeful, upbeat Bucket List Project — as the rapper crafts tracks that contain a smattering of lo-fi beats, jazzy samples, and haunting lyrics, with all of this informed by the recent passing of his cousin and frequent collaborator, John Walt. Devoid of quippy one-liners and relying heavily on richly thematic storytelling, that builds verse to verse, Care for Me is ultimately an expressive tribute to Walter, morning his death, and articulation the grieving process; his name is dropped directly on “Busy/Sirens” (“Jesus got killed for our sins, Walter got killed for a coat”) and the album builds to an almost hysterical finish, with “Prom/King,” on which Saba’s erratic vocal threatens to break-apart everything. We’re allowed a cool-down for a closer (“Heaven All Around Me”), as Saba, accompanied by writing partner Daoud, seems to have found some solace: “No, I can’t feel your pain, but I can see the stars / No, I ain’t leave in vain, but I know we with God / There’s heaven all around me, there’s heaven all around me.” This is one of just a handful of moments on Care for Me where Saba’s confessional storytelling conveys the kind of convincing vulnerability that few artists would be willing to indulge. But much like Earl Sweatshirt’s Some Rap Songs, the catharsis reached by exploring these arduous memories is enough to justify the forthright honesty.
Published as part of What Meek Didn’t Do | The Rap Releases We Missed in 2018.