By Kevin Leacock
I don’t tell the truth so y’all will feel sorry for me – Saba
Three years ago, on a cold Thursday night in February I made the trek to The Barbary in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood to see Mick Jenkins. Mick Jenkins had just released his EP, The Water[s] and had plenty buzz for a headlining tour that included, Kirk Knight, No Name, and Saba. While Mick was the headliner and killed his set, I left a fan of one of the openers – Saba. Even though Saba didn’t have the following, his energy and rapping ability immediately won me over. Now, people who know me know that I like hitching my wagon to artists early – just to say I was in on the ground floor before the rise and tell people “I told you so” (e.g., Kendrick Lamar, EarthGang, Gallant, & NAO to name a few). Well, that day I hitched my wagon to Saba, and knew someday he would blow up. I think we can safely say that he is on his way, if not already there. With the release of his sophomore LP, CARE FOR ME, Saba is currently on a headlining tour throughout the United States and selling out venue after venue.
Saba’s received favorable reviews for CARE FOR ME, he’s started touring bigger venues, and he’s gaining the attention of more people, expanding his base, but his road to success isn’t without its bumps. On Feb 8, 2017, Saba’s cousin and best friend John Walt (co-founder of their rap group Pivot Gang) was fatally stabbed while Saba was on the road touring his debut album, Bucket List. Understandably, this traumatic experience has had a huge impact on Saba’s life and it affects him to this day. In an effort to heal from this loss, Saba essentially took a leave of absence. With the help of producers Daoud & DaedaePIVOT, turned his pain into musical therapy.
Saba is telling his truth, but he’s not asking the listener to feel sorry for him
CARE FOR ME acts as a channel for Saba to translate his thoughts, emotions, and ideas on the tragic event, and to figure out what exactly he is feeling. Saba is telling his truth, but he’s not asking the listener to feel sorry for him; he is transparent enough to let us into his headspace where he is questioning God, but also states that he isn’t mad at God. CARE FOR ME explores the rollercoaster of emotions Saba’s gone through from loneliness and brokenness, to the smoke and mirrors of social media and the feeling of not being able to escape death (“I know ‘Pac was 25, I know Jesus 33” – LIFE).
Aided by producers Daoud and DadaePIVOT, CARE FOR ME’s sonic representation matches well with the thematic layers presented. Saba, who started playing the piano at 7, approaches music with the mindset of a painting a full picture – layered, intricate, and detail-oriented. Saba’s use of the Fender Rhodes, keyboards, trumpet, guitar, and double bass, expands the sonic palate and offers a range of emotional textures to be painted with. This is most apparent on his song PROM/KING (his magnum opus in my opinion) which illustrates the relationship between a young Saba and his cousin, Walter.
Before we seek to help, understand or listen, we need to understand what happened in [a] person’s life
As a public health professional, we discuss trauma often, how to treat and properly handle people that have suffered traumatic experiences. Approaches such as trauma-informed care are used frequently in an effort to find pathways to recovery. When listening to an album as open and honest as CARE FOR ME, we get a peek into the mind and emotions of an individual who has experienced such trauma. But, before we seek to help, understand or listen, we need to understand what happened in [a] person’s life. This is just one person’s story, imagine all the others that don’t see the light of day. This album is important because it allows listeners to latch on to common themes that affect their lives, and while they may not have the platform to get their story out, they can relate to the words being said and not feel alone. Personally, I believe narratives and stories are vital because of their ability to humanize people. Saba did just that, and he showed that it’s okay to not have the answers to the questions (right, Sway?). I think it’s important to raise these questions anyway in the search for your truth. Saba’s story is incomplete just like all of ours – I’m looking to hearing the next chapter in his life through his music.
My top 3 Tracks: