We often refer to our bucket list—an inventory of the things we dream of achieving—without hesitation. Our catalogs can include wishing to experience something as electrifying as bungee jumping off of the highest bridge in the world, or something a bit more simple, like learning a new instrument.
But bucket lists have a morbid undertone: It’s really a list of what you want to accomplish before you kick the bucket, which is where the term originates.
Today (October 27), Chicago rapper and former DJBooth Top ProspectSaba released Bucket List Project, the highly anticipated follow-up to his 2014 mixtape ComfortZone. While Saba used ComfortZone to test his creative boundaries and form a neo-soul aesthetic, he uses his newest tape to explore the idea of the bucket list through the lens of his neighborhood, Chicago's West Side—or more specifically, his area of Austin.
The tape continues in the tradition of ComfortZone, embracing the same neo-soul and R&B sound. Each song, though, is sonically distinct—and Saba maneuvers between them comfortably, and maintains a forceful presence even when altering his delivery. Throughout the tape, he scatters voicemails from friends, family, and fans, each outlining the items on their own lists. This further brings Bucket List Project’s concept into focus: The viewpoint is not just Saba’s but everyone’s.
Unlike his West Side peers—Stunt Taylor, Sicko Mobb, and ZMoney, to name a few—Saba has a remarkable ability to describe his neighborhood in vivid and fascinating detail. On “Church / Liquor Store,” for example, we’re right beside him as he uses the hook to recount exactly what the West Side looks like. While his portrayal is fairly bleak, he also reminds us that this is his home, that there is life here, that there are dreams here—and that that is the point.
3 Standout Songs (beyond singles “GPS,” “World In My Hands,” “Symmetry,” and “Church / Liquor Store”)
“Westside Bound 3” (ft. Joseph Chilliams)
Although ComfortZone had “Westside Bound” and “Westside Bound Pt. 2,” “Westside Bound 3” emphasizes Saba’s West Side narrative. The lively beat—produced by Saba’s bandmate DaeDae and brother Joseph Chilliams—coupled with Saba’s equally energetic flow help to drive that meaning home. The song acts as BLP’s centerpiece and reveals why giving a voice to his neighborhood is particularly important, especially for Chicago.
A majority of the city’s most famed acts, like Common, Kanye, Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa, are from the South Side. But with “3”—galvanized by a journalism class at Young Chicago Authors—Saba shows the West Side that it matters, and gives the rest of Chicago and those outside of the city a glimpse into his home.
"Photosynthesis" (ft. Jean Deaux)
The theme of making it out of the West Side is pervasive on “Photosynthesis.” During the bridge, Saba and featured singer Jean Deaux ask, “What are you looking for?” Saba’s deeply pitched vocals stand in contrast to the tranquil instrumental. You might feel at peace while listening to this record, but if you dig a little deeper, you'll realize that home for Saba isn't as easygoing as the sonic template accompanying his words. Despite finding success in a rap career, however, Sabe will not abandon his home. There are things he still wants for himself and for the people around him, and he still hopes to inspire his neighbors.
“Bucket List” (ft. Matthew Santos)
On the title track, Saba displays a sense of gratitude for all he's been able to achieve thus far in his young career. He opens the first verse spitting, “Skydiving, hoping my pilot land and my shoot is good / And my show went well and my check about to go to the hood / If I die before I can make a change, at least I made a tape / And I pray someday you’re inspired by it and make your way.” The title track is for those who want, and need, to be uplifted. He extends an invitation to the listener to defy all odds.
This isn’t the same artist or man we heard on ComfortZone. The 2014 version of Saba was still in his shell, was still shy and hadn’t yet realized his full potential, nor his whole narrative. Don’t get me wrong: ComfortZone is an excellent project, but with Bucket List Project, his growth is tangible.
Through Bucket List Project, Saba wants to inspire, elevate and bring progress. There is a profound sincerity attached to the tape, which blossoms sonically and conceptually and is strengthened by production from Phoelix, Chilliams, DaeDae and Cam O’bi, as well as features from Noname, Smino and Ravyn Lenae, among others.
While ComfortZone provided Saba the footing he needed, the deeply triumphant Bucket List Project has secured his place in the rap world, and particularly as a voice for Chicago’s West Side.
By Tara Mahadevan. Follow her on Twitter.