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Saba finds new life on 'Few Good Things'

<p>Still from Saba's "Few Good Things" short film</p>

Still from Saba's "Few Good Things" short film

It doesn’t take much to realize that Saba is a special artist.

 Before releasing his latest project, “Few Good Things,” he proved his versatility and showed his knack for creating catchy melodies, insightful lyrics and dynamic storytelling over his first two albums. His first album “Bucket List Project” delivered hit songs such as “Photosynthesis,” and his second album, “Care for Me” saw a complete tonal shift. Saba’s cousin, John Walt (who performed under the moniker dinnerwithjohn), was fatally stabbed in Chicago in 2017.  Much of “Care for Me” is dedicated to eulogizing Walt’s memory and processing Saba’s grief in the aftermath of the event, chronicling his bouts with depression, isolation and survivor’s guilt.

“Care for Me” is a beautiful album, not only lyrically, but also sonically. Saba and producer daedaePIVOT crafted a cohesive and consistent sound for the album, inspired by elements of jazz and conscious hip-hop. Lyrically, Saba flexed his muscles as a storyteller, recounting on “PROM/KING” anecdotes about various experiences he shared with Walt, ultimately concluding with the morning that Walt was stabbed. Despite Saba’s relative lack of popularity compared to his other contemporaries in the Chicago rap scene, moments of brilliance such as those shown on “Care for Me” made me a fan for life.

Saba first previewed “Few Good Things” at the end of 2021, with the single “Fearmonger.” Upon listening to this song, I was immediately confused as to what I should expect from this album, as the single marked a musical shift from “Care for Me” towards sounds inspired by mellow R&B and neo-soul. Saba subsequently released another single.“Stop That,” which was more of a traditional rap-banger compared to “Fearmonger.” At this point, I admired Saba for experimenting with new sounds, but as we all do, I deep down wished that he would continue the sounds I knew and loved rather than throwing me off with new ideas. 

Ahead of the release of the album, Saba issued a statement acknowledging the complexity of his experiences and his emotions and asked for listeners to get more than grief from his music, challenging those who listen to his new album to “actually listen” and “not come in with preconceived notions of what [he’s] done in the past.” I realized then that I was carrying over my experiences of listening to “Care for Me” in preparation for “Few Good Things,” and so ahead of listening to the album front-to-back for the first time, I decided to drop all of those expectations.

My experiences listening to the album completely differed from those listening to the singles. “Few Good Things” certainly marks a musical shift from the somber jazzy tones of his last album but it compliments the thematic change. “Few Good Things” is a more optimistic record, which seeks to encapsulate the many various beauties of life and human emotion. I found that while I thought “Fearmonger” made for a jarring listen as a single, I enjoyed it as a part of a larger picture. Saba shows his versatility, ranging in style from gritty rapping on “Survivor’s Guilt” to more upbeat, neo-soul songs, such as “Come My Way.” 

While there’s less of an emphasis on storytelling as there was on past projects, the track “2012” sees Saba reminiscing on his childhood before the complications of adulthood and fame. This theme comes up often throughout the album — that even though he grew up broke, he “had everything [he] needed.” He also recounts that there were “small things about bein' broke” he never got a chance to notice before he released his first mixtape in 2012. 

On the track “Survivor’s Guilt,” Saba discusses various members of his family, paying tribute to his father for his support in his musical endeavors and lamenting that his cousin was “supposed to be here.” He contrasts this on the final track, “Few Good Things” where he laments that “money turn a man into an island / And a friend into a financial advisor / Take a family and divide it in America, the land of the tyrant.” The album encapsulates the range of Saba’s experiences and emotions, and the clever wordplay keeps listeners engaged.

Saba still exists as an independent artist in the underground of the Chicago rap scene, but “Few Good Things” demands widespread attention. It works as a distillation of Saba’s experiences with fame, money, and life after trauma. The beats can be bouncy and upbeat, or cold and somber. The versatility of tone, rather than indicating an unfocused record, speaks more to the fact that Saba is a complex person with many experiences to share. That openness will always be his greatest strength.

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