Chicago might be nicknamed “The Second City,” but in recent years it’s become the number one major metro on the forefront of innovation in hip-hop.
Within the last 24 months, Chicago has seen genre-bending, ultra-cerebral releases from the likes of Vic Mensa, Mick Jenkins, Towkio, Dreezy, and Noname, and this is, of course, after Chance The Rapper’s Coloring Book literally changed the game, forcing the Recording Academy to revise its eligibility rules to include it in their 2016 Grammy Awards. It’s pretty safe to say that the Windy City is on a winning streak that no other major metropolitan hip-hop center has seen since the nineties.
Which means there was a lot of pressure on Tahj Malik Chandler, better known as Saba, to deliver just as masterful a project with Care For Me, his second album under his own label, Saba Pivot.
Of course, Chi-town has artistic support in the form of elements like YouMedia Center and Young Chicago Authors, youth-oriented open mics and workshops dedicated to helping young artists hone their crafts. It was in these programs that nearly all of Chi-town’s young breakthrough artists from Chance to Saba would develop their skills and sounds, which is why so many of them have such similar sinuous lyrical approaches to rapping. It’s this proximity that put Saba in the hot seat with his latest release, but it’s also what ensured that Care For Me is one of the best releases of the spring of 2018, even with almost two months to go.
There are ten songs here, a trim playlist that gives Saba just enough time to cover all the ground he needs to. He tackles heavy subject matter like his depression after the death of fellow Pivot Gang member John Walt with “Life” and his questionable dating proclivities on “Broken Girls” as well as lighter fare such as Chance The Rapper feature “Logout,” his reflection on the modern obsession with social media. In the meantime, “Calligraphy” handles the power of the pen to escape the desperate circumstances of Chicago’s gang-ridden South Side as “Smile” addresses the concept of money buying happiness.
Throughout, Saba’s flow retains the intricate, poetic quality that’s become a signature of YCA’s graduates, twisting and winding around and through itself, stacking syllables and metaphors so densely that the album simply begs for repeat listens. The beats veer fiercely away from the simplistic approach of modern trap, instead dabbling in soulful keys, plaintive horns, and muted drums, finding downtempo grooves that evoke the latter-day production of Detroit producer J Dilla filtered through Kanye West’s more organic compositions. The overall effect is warm and intimate; Saba wants to draw you in and indulge in a conversation rather than ostentatious flexes or high-minded preaching. It’s imminently listenable chill-out music with a depth that belies its mellow overtones.