by Thom Vigor

CARE FOR ME is an album about the death of Saba’s cousin and fellow MC in his rap collective Pivot Gang, John Walt. As he laments his cousin’s death, Saba contemplates the epidemic of loneliness that stems from social media, the continued struggle of his ancestry from plantations in the south to his urban Chicago, and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in contrast to the death of his cousin over a coat. CARE FOR ME is dense with Saba’s poignant reflections on society and his experiences, but nonetheless the project glides effortlessly throughout its tight forty-one minute runtime, carried by lofty instrumentals and dynamic vocals. Don’t be deceived by the comforting piano-led melodies and catchy choruses, though – CARE FOR ME’s lyrical depth matches the likes of Frank Ocean’s Blonde and Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., however Saba continues to cultivate his own distinct smooth, jazzy singer/songwriter and rap blend; he is influenced by greater artists but makes sure not to fly too close to the sun.

Saba has come a long way since passing out mixtapes in his high school hallways and performing at local venues at just sixteen. The Chicago MC first gained recognition when he appeared on Chance the Rapper’s breakthrough mixtape Acid Rap – since then he has become a staple in the Chicago rap community, continuing to work alongside Chance on Coloring Book, as well as with his fellow Chicagoans Noname and Mick Jenkins. Saba released his freshman album in 2016, Bucket List Project, and although it featured fantastic tracks such as Stoney and Photosynthesis, to many the project felt like the disorganised work of an inexperienced musician. CARE FOR ME marks a significant development in the maturity and complexity of Saba’s work, both conceptually and musically.

The album opens with BUSY/SIRENS, which sets the oxymoronically dark and heavenly tone of the album wonderfully, with the chorus “sirens on the way” simultaneously being one of the most catchy and touching moments on the record. Saba starts the track with a verse about his lonely and depressive state, and only begins to allude to the death of his cousin as the cause for his sadness. Because while CARE FOR ME is certainly an introspective album, Saba wants to make the content of the album applicable to the rest of his audience – therefore he portrays his contagious sorrow as a common symptom of modern society rather than something that’s strictly personal. Saba only really gets personal on PROM/KING, where his talent for storytelling is comparable to the gold-level standard of Kendrick Lamar’s DUCKWORTH.

Saba points to the rise of social media as one of the main reasons for the epidemic of loneliness that is pervasive in society. On LOGOUT Chance the Rapper raps with his usual poetic dexterity about how social media disconnects rather than connects, stating that people “ain’t put a picture on their wall since the stone age” and value friend requests more than having real friends. Saba also discusses the negative effects of the quantification of relationships with ‘likes’, as well as how people compete with one another to make their lives seem as interesting as possible, which ultimately just leads to more isolation and less self-worth. This track stands out not just for the relevance of its message but also for the lyrical fluency that Saba and Chance the Rapper display in its delivery.

CARE FOR ME is so full of emotions, reflections and stories in its short runtime that it would be a futile task to try and unravel it before you in this review. I can only ask that you give this budding artist’s impassioned work a listen, with its thrilling lyrical content and flourishing instrumentals. Saba conveys a sense of urgency to his reflections on society without seeming too didactic or preachy, and briefly allows us entry into his despondent thoughts at the death of his cousin, which are imparted so masterfully that it almost feels intrusive.