The world of music has changed immensely over the course of this decade. During the age of CD's and downloading music on iTunes, the albums that artists put out were a lot more dependent on pop singles. Artists were putting out compilations of pop hits as opposed to a collection of songs that culminated into a cohesive body of work. Not to say that every song that has topped the pop charts has been unbearable to listen to; some have been quite good. But writing a song for the sole purpose of getting radio spins more often than not will degrade the quality of the song itself.
However, over the latter half of this decade, as music streaming has become more and more prevalent, that model has began to change. With streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music taking center stage when it comes to music consumption, fewer people are listening to the radio, and fans are listening to albums again. Artists are now able to connect with their audience on a more immediate basis due to the fact that they can put out an album at the drop of a hat with no promotion whatsoever. While a lot of artists still put out a release date via social media, and might even drop a a single or 2, others will release an album completely out of nowhere. However, one thing does remain consistent. Artists are more focused on making a complete project as opposed to a compilation of pop hits that start to bleed into one another after awhile. As a result, there has been a massive uptick in the quality of albums put out by popular artists.
The newest album by Chicago MC Saba fits this criteria. Entitled "CARE FOR ME," this project is the culmination of all of the flashes of brilliance that the 24 year old wordsmith has shown over the years. Saba's previous release, 2016's "Bucket List Project" had all the ingredients of a great rap album. It employed jazzy and soulful instrumentation in a way that was tasteful and organic. His poignant lyricism and tight song structures showed that he can do more than just craft a good verse. However, with Care For Me, Saba has truly separated himself from the pack, coming out with what may very well go down as one of the best rap releases of 2018.
Clocking in at 10 tracks and just over forty minutes, Care For Me is a concise, neatly-woven meditation on loneliness, past mistakes, and memories of growing up on Chicago's West Side. While the 3 aforementioned topics really are a lot of what the album is centered around, there are other events in Saba's life that are touched on throughout the album as well. The opening track, "Busy," sees Saba reflecting on his infidelity from years' past, as well as all of the friendships he has lost due to him pushing people away. On this track, Saba also confronts the depression he has faced following the death of his cousin, John Walt. This is a pivotal event in his life, and this loss is something that continues to haunt him throughout the duration of the project. Everything that is touched on in the opening track reappears later in the album, and it all comes together as a perfect whole near the end. This album shows that Saba is doing much more than dropping lyrical gems. He's tackling heavy topics with a perspective that sounds like a breath of fresh air. He's showing that he's not just a rapper; he's a songwriter. This album sounds like a complete thought, with each song showing a different inner-working of Saba's mind.
Lyrically, the songs on this LP sound great individually. "Smile," which is one of the more light hearted moments on the album, has a very nostalgic tone as Saba is looking back on growing up in his Grandmother's West Side apartment. On "Grey," Saba talks about the struggles artists face working in the music industry which is heavily controlled by corporations. One of the most noticeable things about Saba as an MC is his storytelling. He is not afraid to wear his heart on is sleeve, and some of his best moments on this record are when he is telling deeply emotive stories. "Prom/King," which is perhaps the most intense song on the entire project, tells the story of the death of Saba's cousin. It starts out with Saba reminiscing about their high school days, before a beat switch up sees Saba fast forwarding in time to moments that led up to John's death. It might be the best song that Saba has written up to this point in his career. In general, Saba brings the lyrical heat on every song on this album. His verses are poetic, His wordplay is almost always on point, and his colorful, descriptive lyrics really paint pictures. However, as mentioned above, what really sets this album apart is how Saba drives everything home in the end. The final song, "Heaven All Around me," which seems like a bit of a followup to Prom/King, feels like the perfect stamp on this incredibly rewarding listen. It is a track where Saba is rapping from the perspective of his deceased cousin John, who is seemingly leaving Earth and on his way to a place of divinity. Despite the heavy subject matter, this song closes the album out on a strangely upbeat note, as if John is telling Saba that everything will be okay.
The production on this album is extremely minimalist, and like a lot of Saba's previous work, it takes a lot of influence from jazz and soul music. The beats here are simplistic, stripped back and skeletal. The toned down instrumentals create a very intimate listening experience, and they really allow Saba to take center stage with his personal subject matter. The overall aesthetic of this album is lo-fi and nocturnal, and sounds like a late night drive through a Chicago neighborhood. The vibe of the album is really quite beautiful. The instrumentals here really work due to the fact that they compliment Saba's mood perfectly. The instrumental on "Smile" is light and cheerful, setting the perfect backdrop for Saba's nostalgic lyrics. "Fighter" features a very somber mixture of jazz and trap, and sees Saba battling personal demons. No matter what mood Saba is going for on a song, he uses the production in a way in which is extremely complimentary to his lyrics.
Through the use of colorful lyricism, complimentary production and concise conceptualism, Saba has been able to pull together a masterpiece. In the streaming age where we see a lot of rap albums that are decent and nothing more, Saba has truly been able to separate himself from the pack. His songwriting, storytelling, and aesthetic are something only few artists in the game can match. While this project will almost certainly be regarded as one of the best of 2018 by a lot of people, its long term impact on Hip-Hop remains unknown. Only time will tell if the young MC has a classic on his hands, but there's certainly something to be said about the fact that he's even in the conversation.
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