Chicago has been the birthplace of numerous rap juggernauts, from Chief Keef and the whole drill scene to pop renovators like Ye, but its newer (and less appreciated) underground scene is nothing short of spectacular. Now three albums in, native rapper Saba keeps delivering shimmery records of awakening hope, birthed from his observations of suffering in Austin, a suburb in the city’s west. On ‘Few Good Things’, the 27-year-old celebrates the wins, no matter how small they are.
His beat choices are simply amazing here. Saba can produce his own stuff, but he can pick a good beat too. monte booker, a superstar producer in the same scene as Saba, joins forces with Spillage Village vocalist Mereba for ‘Simpler Things’; the trio create a pixellated fantasy. In the space of three-and-a-half minutes, Saba shows off his three sides (laidback, zippy and sultry) as he demonstrates his true versatility.
If there’s a André 3000-style sound to that track, the comparison carries over to the jazzy ‘Solider’, which features the rest of Saba’s rap troupe Pivot Gang. The rest of the Gang prove their ferociously great wordplay and smooth vocals, while the opening verse sees Saba adopt a flow that wouldn’t sound out of place on Outkast‘s third album ‘Aquemini’: “I’m dying from asphyxiation from the weight of the world / While in the waiting room I’m waiting for the birth of my girl”.
There are other gems (well, this whole album is a gem) on ‘Few Good Things’, such as ‘Come My Way’ featuring Bone Thugs-n-Harmony‘s Krayzie Bone, where Saba’s bassy bellows soothe any emotional welts you might’ve accumulated over the years. There’s also a luscious interlude with the ethereal Eryn Allen Kane – another one Chicago’s golden neo-soul vocalists – who stuns as she and Saba’s harmonies intertwine effortlessly, over simple strums of a guitar and some trap 808s, when they remember innocence of 2012: “We on the way but only 50/50 chance we make it / We never say goodbye no see ya round or see ya later”.
On this record, Saba expertly blends the whimsical and spiritual nature of soul music with GOAT-level penmanship reminiscent of the conscious rap of yesteryear. The result is a glorious neo-rap sound. It doesn’t quite fit in with his contemporaries’ party music, and he’s not always as crafty and traditional as hip-hop, so rappers like Saba often stay on the wayside, delivering absolute perfection without many accolades. That would be a shame, as this is an album at a divine level.
Record label: Independent
Release date: February 4th