After granting the world the chance to hear his public grieving process on his previous album CARE FOR ME, Saba was in danger of becoming pigeonholed. Technical excellence combined with visceral emotion, the album resulted in a memorial project for his cousin Walter Long Jr., aka founding Pivot Gang member dinnerwithjohn. His tragic stabbing death over a coat left Saba lost and confused, and without his confidant, mentor, and wingman. The windfall trapped Saba’s public perceptions within the confines of being a melancholic rapper, ignoring the full scope of the Chicago-born artist’s talents and humanity.
“When I think of grief and trauma in my music: it’s absolutely there. It’s prevalent,” Saba recalls in the middle of our interview, who experienced more loss in the past year. This past August, Pivot Gang member and cherished friend SqueakPIVOT, born Javunte Wheeler, was fatally shot at 26 years old. “But also there are all these other things that are celebrations. I think I’m just trying to build a narrative that paints a full spectrum. That’s what I wanted to offer with a record like Few Good Things: ‘How do I make this as unapologetically myself as I can?’ And that one of the things that you’ll hear throughout that record because of that is like, there’s no one sound we committed to.”
The highly anticipated Few Good Things arrives nearly four years after CARE FOR ME and deviates from memorializing the past, electing to provide a comprehensive status update on Saba overall. Forged in a vacuum, Saba tried to listen to as little modern rap music as possible. Instead of looking outward for influences, he surrounded himself with a tight-knit circle to foster creative growth.
“When I was working on the album, we were doing these 16s sessions, where we would all get on Zoom, just how me and you on Zoom right now,” Saba tells Audiomack World. “It’d be 10 of us and our challenge was to write 16 bars in 16 minutes. And this is at a moment where nobody’s really writing music because it’s the beginning of the pandemic and shit. And we’re just forcing each other to just write. Doing that really made me fall back in love with rap.”
How does it feel to be back and active again in music, starting with your performance at Chicago’s The Metro back in October of last year?
When we do tours and shit, you with a pure high, like a pure bliss of energy every night. To have that removed from your life… every artist I know goes into a semi-depressive state. So I think the two years of not being able to perform, I was in that state where you have to pick yourself up out of it and figure out how to connect to people.
The stage is where I’m comfortable. So that’s the main thing I think you miss: the connection with people. I feel like I’m pretty naturally introverted. Anytime I’m not being introverted, I’m trying really hard.
You say “fall back in love with rap.” Was there a stretch where rap as a concept wasn’t hitting for you?
When things become a career, your relationship to it just changes. It’s not that I wasn’t fucking with rap, I just wasn’t really inspired by it. I was always inspired by shit that just felt like people were unapologetically themselves. People are in a place where it feels like we’re all fighting for one identity. This space and time away allowed me to nurture the things that made me an individual, find artists who are themselves. An artist like Ka and his record Descendants of Cain: my brother Joseph sent that shit to me and was like, “Listen to this shit.” It just made me want to be a better writer: step up my bars, my structure, my everything. Made me fall back in love with rap.
Each line you say feels important. What’s the motivation behind making each person and each moment you rap about feel special?
With something like this album, that’s the only way to convey the emotion behind it. Without context of why it’s important, the whole messaging of the album would be lost. To know why we’re sad that we lost people, you have to understand the people that we lost. In order to understand why we are happy to be on the right path and moving towards success, you have to understand where the starting point was.
It provides all the context when people hear stories about me, or the preconceived notion that you get from an album like CARE FOR ME, or when you see the articles about how I’m independent. I think this album doesn’t serve to answer any question, but it serves to just give context to how shit ended up like this.
Have you felt the need to balance between themes that are light-hearted or themes that are heavier?
For sure. It’s just like real life. When things hit you in a certain way, they hit you. It could be a loss or a bad day or whatever. That’s just where you are mentally for a while. That’s not to say you can’t have great days while you’re going through some shit.
CARE FOR ME was really specific. It was made in a short amount of time, kind of like word vomit. It gets really personal and dark at times. But I think [Few Good Things] offers a fuller spectrum of who I am. Yes, it’s dark, but it’s also light. This is the balance. It’s the juxtaposition of all of that shit, of living in the hood. It’s not just niggas getting shot every day. We just playing tag and football and shit. We had some amazing days. I think the fandom of artists is sometimes skewed to a character.
A lot of times your music acts as a memorial to people you’ve lost. Does it help at all to write about your loved ones? If you want to get into that.
I mean, I don’t, but I will. I’ll say, I think more than people that are lost [are the] moments that are lost. A lot of times, we can be grieving that moment. I think about that shit a lot. There’s a lot of stuff that can never be recreated. And on this album, I just don’t want it to get confused. A lot of the tragedy and the fucking loss and shit that’s going on with us has been in a very public matter. I don’t want people to misinterpret or misconstrue some of the messaging on this album.
Squeak was alive and well when we made this album. He was coming to all of the mixing sessions. When we finished this album, I played it for him. He heard it. I know people are going to be like, “Damn, they lost another homie,” and will associate a lot of lyrics to that.
I just don’t want my real messaging to get lost in my grieving. Like damn, all you got out of this whole thing was trauma?
You mention social anxieties and insecurities at will. Does the vulnerability and transparency in your music help you?
I don’t even think twice about it. This is where you can speak openly about shit. It’s not a thing that I do with any other intention than just like, “Of course, what else would I write about?”
Your music is a reflection of not only you but the people that you’re around. Everything we talking about on this album are conversations that I have with my homies on multiple occasions. It speaks to the circle. We are comfortable with who we are as people, so we can talk about who we are as people.
By Matthew Ritchie for Audiomack