Review Summary: Tell me I’ll be okay. Tell me happier days.
Tahj Malik Chandler (a.k.a. Saba) has been a promising young talent in the Chicago rap scene since the early 2010s. Even at the age of 23, he’s already amassed two mixtapes and now two studio albums in the past six years alone with his latest release CARE FOR ME
. Part of the reason is because of his upbringing, where the man was surrounded by family members who immersed him in hip-hop/R&B, soul, and jazz influence by the numbers. His older brother, cousin, and friends would go on to form the foundation of Chicago rap crew Pivot Gang
. It would have been impossible for Saba to avoid music in an environment like that, not that he ever was trying to. Despite being a stellar student, he began his musical craft very early, already working songs together in his early-mid teens. Since then, he’s developed a huge network within the Chicago scene, worked with fellow Chicago natives Noname and Twista, and is perhaps most well-known for delivering the sticky hook on the song “Angels” off of Chance the Rapper’s latest album Coloring Book
You would expect, given his cited influences (Lupe Fiasco, Kanye, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony) and his close relationship with Chance, that his music and flow would sound like a natural extension of their works. However, Saba’s main strength is his knack for storytelling and depicting a compelling narrative, a trait he shares more with Kendrick Lamar. Besides the long-form stories he gets into such as the sprawling “PROM / KING”, he can even be seen altering his voice here on songs like the seething single “LIFE” or the Chance collaboration “LOGOUT”, channeling a nasally version of himself not unlike what Kendrick does in his works. This amounts to an album that, while smooth and dreamy-sounding with heavy jazz influence, has an air of unpredictability in the way the lyrics are spoken and an overall darker theme buried within its story. You have to listen hard and look beyond just the deceivingly hopeful song titles.
Over the entire run length of CARE FOR ME
, it’s apparent Saba is no stranger to having his family taken away from him. His friend and fellow artist FRSH Waters was sent to jail in 2013 and only released in the summer of last year. His uncle also went to jail and then passed away a year after being released. But the main loss you’ll hear about on at least half the tracks here is the most recent and perhaps most painful one he’s had to endure yet; that of his cousin and comrade (Walt Long Jr). Walter was stabbed while coming off the Chicago CTA train in early February 2017, something that Saba expresses deep grief over throughout the album. He directly recollects the trauma in opener “BUSY / SIRENS”, lashing out with lyrics like “Jesus got killed for our sins. Walter got killed for a coat.”
. On the album’s opus “PROM / KING”, he’s recounts growing up with Walter and the events leading up to the stabbing. The story about Walt finding him a girl to go to Prom with is both humorous and moving, and makes the ensuing tragedy feel that much more close-to-home when he ends his final verse with “We got in the car, but didn’t know where to drive to. *** it, wherever you are my nigga, we’ll come and find you...”
. Elsewhere on “CALLIGRAPHY”, he talks about finding solace and healing in the process of writing songs, and on “LIFE”, contemplates how long even he has before he befalls the same fate. He quotes a “million dollars” in the song “SMILE” as this magic number he has to reach in order to get him and his grandparents out of their current living accommodations. He knows money won’t solve all his problems, but to a man who’s been through what he has, it’s hard not to at least see the short-term benefit money could have for his remaining family and in preventing the same tragedy from occurring.
CARE FOR ME
shows Saba at his most refreshingly honest. And while his previous work on The Bucket List Project
delightfully explored what him and his peers want to accomplish before
they die, here he faces death directly
. The album still discusses personal topics outside of it like women in his life (“BROKEN GIRLS”), the disingenuous nature of the music industry (“GREY”), or social media (“LOGOUT”). However, Saba is most potent and affecting when he articulates his deepest inner thoughts about his past demons and the anxiety and depression it’s bred within him. His ability to vividly tell his stories with unflinching honesty and such an accurate attention to detail helps transport listeners right to the scenes with him, just like Kendrick so masterfully did on good kid, m.A.A.d city
over five years ago. And it’s hard not to argue that because of this, it’s Saba’s best work yet.