Care For Me: Saba

Chicago rappers all have the gift of introspection. Common, Kanye, Mick Jenkins and Noname must have all looked into that giant metal bean and seen the inner depths of their souls.

Saba is taking this to new heights. Listening to this album feels like flipping through his black leather-bound journal, a live-band playing along in the background, his thoughts laid bare on the page. It’s impossible to turn away.

The albums running theme is family and loss. Like a collection of intricately done sketches, each song is something to marvel at. Saba is in mourning and this is his catharsis. For him and for us too.

In 2017, Saba’s cousin, John Walt, was stabbed to death. They and other friends formed PIVOTGang, a collective fronted by Saba. The significance of this event is visible throughout the entire album.

On the opening track “BUSY/SIRENS”, Saba marinates in his loneliness. He doesn’t complain about it but, rather, discerns it’s source. He wants it to change while accepting that it is a part of who he is. TheMind puts it succinctly when he says:

I don’t need nobody new to miss

Survivor’s remorse is the motif for the second half of “BUSY/SIRENS”. Walt is on the floor bleeding to death and there’s nothing Saba can do about it.

Sirens on the way, ayy
Now you’re lying where the angels lay 

I jumped to conclusions when I first heard the chorus to “BROKEN GIRLS”. At first, I thought Saba was romanticising mental illness. Using female pain as a stepping stone, as men have always done. It isn’t though. Saba critiques his feelings for the partners he’s had in the past. Instead of an ego trip, he gives us ego death.

This whole time, been obsessed, being sad
She was my, quick escape, made me forget
Hear her speak, see her weak, made me feel big

“LIFE” is the closest thing this album has to a banger which is a good thing really because this album isn’t supposed to bang. On it, we feel his rage. His handwriting tears through the pages as he laments all the people he’s lost in the short life that he’s lived.

They killed my cousin with a pocket knife
While my uncle on the phone, he was gone for more than half my life
He got out a year and then he died

On “CALLIGRAPHY”, Saba confronts his demons. All the running he’s done hasn’t gotten him anywhere (exercise≠exorcise). Anywhere he wants to be, that is. Instead, he’s going to write them away. Not for us or his career but for himself and, in this age of constant and perpetual oversharing, maybe that’s what we all need.

I can’t get out of bed
I’m not mad at God
But I can’t get out of bed

(I’m going to end up talking about pretty much every song on this album but hey, you’ve made it this far)

“FIGHTER” is one of my favourite cuts of the album. Like a white flag flapping in the wind, Saba surrenders. He’s tired of fighting and that’s perfectly fine. He subverts toxic masculinity without cuffing his jeans or wearing pastel like the icon that he is. There’s honour in futility but only if you admit to it first.

This is also one of the best verses of 2018 tbh. I have to put the whole thing here.

Me and my girl just fought ’cause I talked before she could talk
She was tellin’ a story, I cut her off with some shit not ’bout
The same topic so she just stopped in the middle before the plot
Hit the rest of the car ride silent like “You always do this”
Like “You don’t value my thoughts, either that or you too damn stupid
To realize that if you don’t hear me out then I’ma feel muted
You say that you care, well show it, I’m not askin’ a lot
I know you think you listenin’ but you just waitin’ to talk”

Damn.

 

The sun shines through on the next cut, “SMILE”. He channels his inner Aminé and exchanges gloom for a warm dose of nostalgia. Family is central to Saba and it shows.

Warmer outside and safe ol’ playground, grandma payroll cut, yeah

Whenever I’m trying to do anything to the best of my capabilities, I imagine someone important to me watching because their imaginary approval matters more than my own. “LOGOUT” encapsulates this by showing the weight we give to our virtual identities. Nothing we do matters if no-one is there to see it. It’s like the philosophical cliché “if a tree falls in the forest and no-one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Ain’t no beauty in the absence of broadcastin’ to your followers

I’m a total sucker for hip-hop songs that double as stories. Immortal Techniques “Dance with the Devil” or Ab-Soul’s “Book of Soul” being prime examples. When rappers strip away the metaphors and get intimate, shivers run through my body. “PROM/KING” is this and more. I won’t do it any justice by writing about it, so in the immortal words of Frank Ocean ‘here’s what I think about music and journalism: The most important thing is to just press play’.

“HEAVEN ALL AROUND ME” is the perfect close to the album. On the first track, he imagines his cousin’s lifeless body on the floor, sirens wailing in the distance. Saba paints the ensuing chaos on this song. We can hear the hospital bed as it rattles through the hospital halls, the rhythmic beep of life-support machines, flowers on his bedside, the glint of the Grim Reapers scythe as he hovers away.

It’s alright though, Saba concludes. His soul is in a better place.

There’s heaven all around me, there’s heaven all around
No, I can’t feel no pain, and I can see the stars
No, I ain’t leave in vain, but I know we with God

 

 

 

An Introduction to Noname

Every time I write about an artist I try my hardest to listen to everything they’ve ever released. While I do genuinely love these artists, it’s never an easy thing to do. They’ve grown and matured over time and comparing their debuts to their latest albums is like. .  the cliché apples and oranges. With Noname, I didn’t feel that at all. Admittedly, her discography isn’t as wide as A Tribe Called Quest’s, but it was much easier to digest. Something I’d highly advice you to consider.

Noname is a rapper by profession and a poet by nature. Admittedly, the two are not entirely separate entities, but listening to Noname brings out the distinction clearly. Her lyrics invoke meaning in an age where rap is more about what you have than who you are and, in a way, that makes her more conventional of a rapper than she seems. Look at the first verse from her song ‘Yesterday’ on her experiences with alcohol:

My devil is only closer when I call him back
Liquor in a limelight
Look her in the limelight

With fine wine and ecstasy
You can have the rest of me
Basket case silhouette, cigarette, internet
Check my twitter page for something Holier than black death

Another fine example from Kendrick:

All I have in life is my new appetite for failure
And I got hunger pain that grow insane
Tell me do that sound familiar?
If it do then you’re like me, 
making excuse that your relief
Is in the bottom of the bottle and the greenest indo leaf

As the window open I release everything that corrode inside of me

Now, as a sharp contrast, 2 Chains verse from ‘Mercy’:

Okay, now catch up to my campaign
Coupe the color of mayonnaise

I’m drunk and high at the same time
Drinkin’ champagne on the airplane (Tell ’em!)

Spit rounds like the gun range, beat it up like Rampage
Hundred bands, cut your girl, now your girl need a Band-Aid

While it is hardly fair to compare these artists to each other, doing so brings out their different views on the same topics. In a way, this shows the people that they are. Noname accepting and trying to escape the drug-induced lifestyle she’s living, Kendrick bringing out the peer pressure behind every night out and 2 Chainz trying to get lit. This is by no means a criticism of their lifestyles or world views but rather how they present them to their respective audiences. And to that I say, to each their own.

Noname is part of the new wave of rappers to come out of Chicago and a common factor that Chicagoan rappers have is their sense of unity. No-one brings this out like Chance the Rapper, a musician I have utter reverence for. This Christmas (well, last) he did an (amazing) mixtape with Jeremih, his collaborations with Kanye are legendary (Ultralight Beam!) and he bounces off Noname lyrics like its a Watch the Throne rendition. He brings out the best of her like she brings out the best in him. Listen to their collaborations ‘Lost‘, ‘Finish line/Drown‘, ‘The Tragedy‘ and my favorite ‘Israel‘.

Her debut mixtape Telefone is undoubtedly my favourite record from 2016. All ten songs are on my most played songs playlist in their exact order. Listening to it is routine. It’s calming. It’s absolutely meaningful. If she never released another record (God-forbid) I would not mind (that much) because I feel in one fell swoop she did all she could ever do for music (there could never be enough Noname music). Noname is wonderfully wordy and awkward and raw and this is extremely clear in her music. Telefone’s features aren’t gratuitous or pandering. They are true to her music and the person that Noname is. So do yourself a solid this 2017 and listen to it. The only thing you shall regret is not discovering it earlier.

Tell me what you think about it when you’re done.

Image: The Vulture