But the curtains have been replaced with ragged plastic. The house is vacant, another sign of a bygone era.
Gentrification, financial stability and survivor’s guilt are at the heart of Saba’s new album, her first since critically acclaimed “CARE FOR ME” nearly four years ago. But where this album found him dealing with grief in the wake of his cousin’s murder, “Few Good Things” finds him taking stock of the life he’s accumulated and the pressures that put him there. accompany. Yet he doesn’t just celebrate fame and the padded bank account; he is grateful but circumspect, remembering those who have not made it this far.
“I think losing people early, people who are close to you, you always wonder what you could have done differently to change that,” the 27-year-old rapper says on Zoom from his home in Los Angeles. “You can feel survivor’s guilt and it doesn’t even require death. It’s based on grief like, “Not everyone’s going to go through what I’m going through.” It ends up sticking with you in a way that’s damn unhealthy.
The album comes after the death of another friend of his entourage. In August, Squeak – a DJ, producer and member of the Pivot Gang rap collective with Saba – was gunned down on a street in Chicago’s West End. He was 26 years old.
“I lose someone close to me every time I go out,” Saba says sadly. “And I know that’s part of aging in general, but it leaves a bad taste in your mouth when it’s not natural.”
Born Tahj Malik Chandler, Saba was raised on Chicago’s West Side by his grandparents; his parents were around and active in his life. When he was 5, his father, an R&B singer and producer named Chandlar, moved to New York to pursue his music full-time. In 2004 he released the album “Strong Emotion” to little fanfare, but this led to performance opportunities with Jaheim and Missy Elliott on the road. “That’s where the idea for the music was presented to me, really,” says Saba. “And I think that’s also where the idea of the fearlessness that comes with being a musician was introduced to me, because I saw my dad give up everything he had in Chicago. “
Saba grew up in a family of musicians. His younger brother made beats; his grandmother and paternal relatives were singers. He listened to rap artists like Pharrell and Dipset when he was 6 and became a fan of rap group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony after hearing “Notorious Thugs”, their 1997 song with the Notorious BIG, on a burned CD. . “I listened to this song in a row…like nonstop,” he says. “And then I thought, ‘Oh, I need to hear more of their music. I must listen to him. ”
It was then that Saba realized that rap music could be anything; it didn’t have to sound one way. “It’s a canvas,” he said. “You can do whatever you want with it. When I heard that song, it was like, … ‘Oh, okay, now I can do it.’ ”
Saba took piano lessons soon after. “My mother taught me to play ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ on a toy piano,” he laughs. “I went to my great-grandmother’s, where she had a real piano. I played it and she was so impressed that she ended up giving me this piano. He lasted three years with the instrument. Although he could play back what he was hearing, he couldn’t read the music: “It was so overwhelming I just wanted to stop.” He took what he had learned to play the piano and started making beats. “I was playing classical recitals, but I didn’t want to do that,” says Saba. “I was just trying to learn how to play an instrument so I could use what I learned in the studio.”
Rapper MFnMelo met Saba when he was a precocious 13-year-old who already had a keen ear for musical arrangement. He would hang out in the budding musician’s basement and rap over the instrumentals being created. The seeds of what would be Pivot Gang were planted.
And Melo knew Saba would be special. “He’s just very sure of himself,” he says. “Even when he’s not sure about something musically, he’s sure he can figure it out.”
Pivot Gang performed in open mics all over the West Side and quickly became popular. “We were screaming Pivot and everyone was saying s—back,” Saba recalled. “Do you hear that? It does something. We’re teenagers, so hear the power and the Last name of our collective, we knew we had something.
Over the next three years, Saba released two well-received mixtapes (“GETCOMFORTable” and “ComfortZone”), was featured on Chance the Rapper’s breakthrough mix tape, “Acid Rap,” and released his debut album, ” Bucket List Project,” to wide acclaim. It plummeted in 2016 amid a flurry of notable releases from the city’s up-and-coming talent: Noname, Smino, Jamila Woods, Ravyn Lenae and Mick Jenkins. Then “CARE FOR ME” came out and raves were almost universal. Suddenly Saba was a rising star. “The way everyone sees him now is like I saw him when I was 13,” Melo says.
On “Few Good Things,” Saba looks back with a slight smile, not a frown. By his own admission, “CARE FOR ME” was dark (“You had to be in the right headspace on a Sunday night with headphones on,” he jokes). Here he wanted a lively record that made the subject matter more palatable. While the tracks “Come My Way” and “If I Had a Dollar” actually predate the release of the previous album, much of “Few Good Things” premiered in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. . Initially, Saba was going to release a mix tape – “just a collection of fun songs”, he says. But when the world shut down due to the coronavirus, the music he planned to release didn’t fit the mood. It was much more celebratory and didn’t tell a story, so he reworked the album, recorded the song “Fearmonger” on Zoom last year, and came back with a more honest project that represents the era.
Family is also a dominant theme in “Few Good Things.” On the cover, his grandfather, Carl, sits against a chain-link fence outside his mother’s house, his face peering through pastel-colored flowers. Saba checks her grandfather’s name on the opening track, “Free Samples”, and includes a phone call with him for the promotional film.
In the short, against a slow mix of abstract scenes, Carl and Saba discuss the house in question and why they sold the house in the first place. “I had those savings to fix it,” Carl told his grandson. “I wanted to keep it… for 40 years or 50 years, everyone was coming into the house.” It wasn’t just his mother’s house; it was a respite for people in the neighborhood who needed a safe haven.
The house becomes a character in “Few Good Things” and an asylum for Saba himself. That’s why he looks at him with so much affection: he raised the people who raised him.
“I want people to walk away with something,” Saba says of the album. “What you feel is up to you, but feel Something. It’s a lot of emotions. There were many worlds we entered and exited. It’s the culmination of everything.