Chicago rapper Saba has straddled the edge of mainstream national acceptance since the release of his debut album, The Bucket List Project, in 2016. He has owned his spot as a frequent collaborator with other Chicago artists like Chance the Rapper, Noname, and Mick Jenkins, but with his most recent work, the spotlight has finally become his own, and he has performed with a distinct and memorable grace. CARE FOR ME is a stunningly introverted insight into the mind of a man who has obviously been through a lot, both internally and externally. His words pour out like an emotional bloodletting of soul and jazz: they represent an artist who is both at his artistic high and his emotional low.
Much of the album revolves around his cousin Walter, who was killed in an altercation in February of 2017. “Jesus got killed for our sins, Walter got killed for a coat. I’m tryna’ cope, but it’s a part of me gone and apparently I’m alone,” he raps on “BUSY / SIRENS.” From beginning to end, the album carries a deafening sobriety that is clear and metaphor-free. “PROM / KING,” the unequivocal climax of the album, traces some of his memories with Walter, from their experiences at prom and getting skipped at open mics to looking for a missing Walter only to find that he had been stabbed. In what may be the most bone-chilling musical moment of 2018, the song ends with Walter singing, “I just hope I make it tomorrow.” The next and last song, “HEAVEN ALL AROUND ME,” is narrated from the perspective of Walter at the scene of his death as he ascends into heaven, watching the turmoil of the situation with a smile. Here, Saba creates the perfect concoction of loss and intimacy, of devastation and hope, of death and everlasting life.
Saba’s words, however, reflect his experiences with Walter and into his inner psyche. “It’s harder to love myself when all these people compliment me. Somehow it just remind me what I don’t got… Still feeling the guilt that Walt never thought to call. Fightin’ myself to get out of bed” he raps on “FIGHTER.” His stories flow like those of someone deeply thoughtful and cognizant of the level to which they feel broken and insecure. On “BUSY / SIRENS,” Saba speaks to his anti-social nature which is, in part, caused by his mental issues and the loneliness that ensues. On “CALLIGRAPHY” he reflects on the importance of writing out his thoughts and feelings as a means of internalizing reality. He raps with pin-point precision, carefully guiding the listener through some of the toughest thoughts in his mind.
Some fans online have described CARE FOR ME as a hybrid of Good Kid, M.A.A.D City and I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, and I do not find this at all ungrounded. His complex bars and clever lyricism line after line have proven that he is worthy of standing on the same pedestal as some of the best in the game. Furthermore, the production on this album, which Saba had heavily influenced, is nothing to be laughed at. The lo-fi production and warm instrumentals blend well into the current Chicago sound, but Saba adds his own flavorings that, when noticed, do nothing but inspire awe. On the outro to “GREY,” Saba raps with that same near-impossible elegance over jazz instrumentals (not “jazzy,” actual jazz) that brings to mind some of the moments that made Kendrick Lamar as respected as he is today: “Care for me, carefully, back with more clarity. Back like consecutive, I told you motherf*ckers like Oedipus. Heather B, Sway in the Morning, painter that paint like a portrait.” His authenticity and vulnerability, which subvert the over-happiness and masculinity of much of modern music, carries the same weight as the music that gave Earl Sweatshirt the cult following that he currently has. An artist who has broken himself down and built himself back up as much as Saba has deserves a legacy similar to the best.
Complex. Fascinating. Elegant. Amazing. There is a certain feeling of awe that I chase with each new listen, and it comes very rarely. CARE FOR ME delivered that immediately and did not falter for even a second. Saba has far surpassed any of his previous works, as great as they are, and he has proven to be quite possibly the greatest musical voice in all of Chicago. Perhaps the only words which can capture the power, the talent, the emotion, and the specialty of this album are his own. 9/10