Last year in February, Saba’s cousin and co-founder of the Pivot Gang rap crew, John Walt, was shot and murdered in Chicago. Saba searches for the cure to his emptiness from the loss of his cousin through the innovative piano backtracks and lyrical excellence that embody CARE FOR ME.
The Chicago MC has grown his loyal fanbase after his 2016 debut album, The Bucket List Project, granted him shows in music festivals across the globe. But CARE FOR ME is different than anything the artist has released before. Saba has found his own sound that separates him from the Chicago rap scene which has been influenced by Chance the Rapper over the past few years.
Saba’s brisk 10 track album is dark, yet comfortable. He uses subtle lyrics and Kendrick Lamar-esque storytelling to take each listener on a journey through his struggles with grief and the music industry.
The album starts with “BUSY / SIRENS,” which feels like a perfect extension of the vibe from The Bucket List Project, though the mood is darker than anything on his debut. The deep groove fed by Saba’s ability to float his lyrics above the extensive instrumentals and choral flourishes sets the bar for the album.
The beat developed from the cello rift on the opening of the third track “LIFE” is a reminder that Saba is very different than his fellow Chicago rappers — after all, most of them don't graduate high school at 16 with a 3.5 GPA. The song gives insight into his views of death and has the first mention of John Walt through the hook.
The two songs that follow “LIFE” are the album’s weakest, but they are still an excellent representation of Saba’s sound. While “CALLIGRAPHY” has a catchy feel and well-placed piano instrumentals, it lacks the same lyrical depth as the rest of the record. Saba follows this with “FIGHTER,” which is overwhelming at times due to the overbearing tempo changes that distract from the killer melody featuring Kaina.
The final five songs on CARE FOR ME are masterpieces. Each track has its own character while still seamlessly transitioning into the next. Saba has a very playful flow in “SMILE,” the most lighthearted song on the album.
“LOGOUT” and “GREY” take a break from his focus on grief to present a critical analysis of social media and the music industry. Chance the Rapper is featured in the former, a song discussing the fake lives that are shown on social media. His monotone verse is weak compared to Saba’s innovative flow that brilliantly connects to the piano instrumentals.
On “GREY,” Saba is torn between creating meaningful music and trying to meet the demands of label companies. The production switches from classic hip-hop to more of a swing feel fueled by the suspended cymbal groove. Saba knows how to use these genre-bending sounds to his advantage and show artistic supremacy as he reaches the album’s conclusion.
“PROM / KING” is the record’s foundation and penultimate track. This seven-minute song tells the entire story of the tragedy with his cousin, John Walt. The anxiety from the account builds through the prominent percussion and dynamic contrast.
Saba succeeds in an area other rappers struggle with: He has found a way to easily communicate a story in his songs on the first listen through the cutting production of his vocal variation.
The artist honors his cousin and finishes his story on “HEAVEN ALL AROUND ME.” It allows each listener to breathe and reflect, all while still feeling the lack of resolution Saba’s album portrays.
CARE FOR ME is brilliant. Saba has formed a unique sound and creative flow that are both here to stay.
Final Grade: A