Saba's discography speaks for itself—after all, he did release the best rap album of 2018—but hip-hop fans need look no further than his impeccable run of guest features to witness his incredible talent.
Saba’s penchant for tongue-twisting, cadence-shifting, mind-melting verses, combined with his steadfast willingness to invest himself into his collaborations, have made him one of hip-hop’s most sought-after rap features. The Pivot Gang leader has had verses featured on several impactful projects over the years, ranging from Chance’s landscape-shifting Acid Rap to Dreamville’s summertime blockbuster, Revenge of the Dreamers III.
On the heels of his show-stopping guest verse on ROTD3, as well as Acid Rap’s addition to streaming services, DJBooth decided to rank the top 10 guest features of Saba’s career. Enjoy.
10. Jimi Tents — “Below the Surface” feat. Saba
Album: I Can’t Go Home
Release Date: May 23, 2017
Saba’s collaboration with Jimi Tents was released only three months after the murder of his cousin and fellow Pivot Gang member, John Walt. Whereas Saba outstanding 201 album CARE FOR ME is driven by the time he spent reflecting on Walt’s passing, “Below The Surface” is an in-the-moment Polaroid of Saba’s mental state. To match the track’s melancholy production and Tent’s emotionally-weighted verse, Saba raps in monotone with a deadpan delivery about the surrealness of his loss. Try listening with dry eyes.
9. Kota the Friend — “Solar Return” feat. Saba
Release Date: May 15, 2019
A little over four months ago Saba hopped on Kota the Friend’s FOTO album, marking the first collaboration between the kindred bar-droppers. Saba’s verse slides smoothly between Kota’s lead-off and closing appearances. This decision helps maintain continuity between the headliner and the Chicago native. Saba floats atop the track’s playfully, light-toed piano loop like a feather in a summer breeze. Dropping hopeful, quotable bars about his future, he attempts to convince his family that he will retire from rap someday. Someone should tell Saba that no one actually retires from rap.
8. Sylvan LaCue — “Best Me (Remix)” feat. Saba
Release Date: January 30, 2017
2018 saw Saba and Sylvan LaCue drop two critically acclaimed albums in CARE FOR ME and Apologies in Advance, respectively. However, the year prior, LaCue tapped Saba for a remix of “Best Me,” the lead single off the above-mentioned album. Tapped for lead-off duties, Saba opens over a bed of menacing piano chords, void of all other instruments, with increasing urgency in his voice. He comes forward from the depths of the instrumental in delivering an explosive finish by verse-end. Much like a great white violently bursting from the murky waters beneath an unsuspecting seal, Saba delivers darts with deadly purpose.
7. Noname — “Shadow Man” feat. Saba, Smino & Phoelix
Release Date: July 31, 2016
Fans have discussed the possibility of a Noname, Smino, and Saba supergroup. “Shadow Man” is audio evidence why such a formation would be soulful, fulfilling, and wholesomely enjoyable. On this museum-worthy cut from Telefone, all three rappers touch on mortality as young, Black Americans with bars centered around their funerals. Saba, with his identifiable style, pieces together a verse full of infectious vocal inflections, astounding alliteration, and crystal clear imagery. His heartfelt words skip across the Cam O’bi instrumental like a child playing hopscotch in the summertime. The result is something that more closely resembles an ascension to heaven than a funeral full of falling tears.
6. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment — “SmthnthtIwnt” feat. Saba
Release Date: May 28, 2015
2015’s Surf was one of the most anticipated albums in recent memory. Though Nico Segal, Chance The Rapper and company filled the star-studded album with household names like J. Cole, Big Sean, Quavo, and others, Saba was the recipient of a solo track. Perhaps this creative decision was made because no other rapper could handle the irregular beat on “SmthnthtIwnt” with as much grace and conviction as the young Chicagoan. Saba steps into the ring with a soundscape full of nearly nonexistent drums and an assortment of strange bells, horns, and claps as his opponents. He delivers an emotional Mike Tyson-esque knock-out blow to the instrumental’s chin, coming away victorious with the best verse Surf has to offer.
5. John River — “Learned My Lesson” feat. Saba
Album: The Storm
Release Date: September 22, 2015
“Learned My Lesson” is a wake-up call to the streets. Saba’s guest feature, found on John River’s second mixtape The Storm, is sandwiched between two exceptional verses from the headliner, adding a valuable perspective to the song’s overall message. As he discusses the lessons learned growing up on Chicago’s West Side, Saba alternates between precise deliveries and layered vocals. He speeds up and slows down his verse as if he’s trying to outrun his experiences and post-childhood mental state. Zigging and zagging his way through his mind in an attempt to keep his demons at arm's length, Saba delivers one of his most reflective, emotive verses to date.
4. Chance the Rapper —“Everybody’s Something” feat. Saba & BJ The Chicago Kid
Album: Acid Rap
Release Date: April 30, 2013
Saba hadn’t even released his 2014 mixtape ComfortZone when he was featured on Chance the Rapper’s instant classic, Acid Rap. Up to that point in his career, Saba delivers the best verse of his career, standing shoulder to shoulder with the artist who rap fans were heralding as the next big star. In relishing in the opportunity before him, Saba’s voice carries a rasp that is full of hunger and passion. Dropping punchlines that hit harder than a Chicago Bears middle linebacker, he proceeds to sneak in socially conscious raps Lupe Fiasco would be proud of.
3. Jamila Woods — “Basquiat” feat. Saba
Album: LEGACY! LEGACY!
Release Date: May 10, 2019
Jamila Woods’ LEGACY! LEGACY! relives the past as an integral part of her present. For the album, she invites Saba to join in on the Jean-Michael Basquiat-influenced, “BASQUIAT.” Saba, adding to his remarkable 2019 feature run, focuses on the topic of Black self-expression. His rapping runs fast and furious, giving a more straightforward and anger-driven presentation of Woods’ chorus. The verse acts as a venting session for Saba to release pent-up frustration caused by media manipulation. He reveals why he prefers to work in the shadows and avoid the publicity that comes with being a rising rap star.
2. Joey Purp —“Cornerstore” feat. Saba & the Mind
Release Date: May 26, 2016
Joey Purp’s “Cornerstore” paints a picture of the violence and loss of innocence that occurs on the streets of Chicago. Purp and Saba trade singular verses about the realities of their upbringing, from the strains placed on familial life to their attempts to steer clear of the trouble inhabiting their backyards. Boisterous horns heighten the excitement level and add a sense of urgency, while Saba’s pain and frustration can be felt through the speakers as his voice has to shout over the noise. Cracking and breaking along the way, Saba’s voice barely escapes the sonic environment, much like the artists themselves.
1. Dreamville — “Sacrifices” feat. EARTHGANG, Smino, Saba, & J. Cole
Album: Revenge of the Dreamers III
Release Date: July 5, 2019
On “Sacrifices,” religiously-tinged bars are found side-by-side with prideful boasts, placed within acrobatic rhyme schemes, and relayed through ever-changing vocal deliveries and inflections. It’s the same, signature Saba, yet with years of practice, perfecting, and preparation elevating his performance. His verse is full of rightfully earned confidence, weathered by career and life experiences, and comes with a newfound self-awareness as he takes the next step in his journey. Saba’s been on the come-up; “Sacrifices” tells us that he has arrived.