“Like keep grindin’ boy, your life can change in one year.” – J. Cole
The Chicago Tribune has named Saba ‘Chicagoan of the Year’ as he wraps up a monstrous 2018 propelled by his sophomore album, CARE FOR ME. The album, which was recently ranked as the number one hip-hop and R&B album of 2018 by DJBooth, has been praised for its incredibly genuine and evocative content which finds Saba navigating his memories and emotions as he works to make sense of the death of his cousin and close collaborator, Walter Long Jr., aka dinnerwithjohn or John Walt, who was killed in February 2017 after being stabbed in Chicago.
While many hip-hop artists and fans (myself included) believe that Saba was snubbed of a Grammy nomination with CARE FOR ME, it’s great to witness this kind of overwhelmingly welcoming reaction to a growing artist who has helped cement Chicago’s status as a breeding ground for hip-hop’s next wave of outstanding talent.
In announcing Saba’s newfound title, Greg Kot from the Chicago Tribune offers his reaction to the songs that, through cathartic bars and stirring beats, so flawlessly convey a feeling of disturbance underscored by a glimmer of hope. He writes, “Rather than wallow in sadness, ‘Care for Me’ sounds by turns angry, mournful, philosophical and inspiring, particularly as it closes with the harrowing ‘Prom/King’ and the hopeful ‘Heaven All Around Me’ (‘No, I can’t feel your pain but I can see the stars’).”
Building on initial success and an established, yet undefined, fan base, Saba embarked on a 27-date nationwide tour this past spring, followed by a festival circuit that kept both new and old supporters satisfied throughout the summer. And he hasn’t let his foot off the gas since. After a Tiny Desk performance in October that saw him mimic the crowding of miscellaneous artifacts by packing the stage with eight of his closest friends and musical confidants (one of them being his dad), he wrapped up the year by heading overseas to rock with kids across Australia, New Zealand and Asia, including an illuminated sold out show in Tokyo.
While CARE FOR ME was the musical highlight of Saba’s 2018, it wasn’t his only offering in a breakout year. “Where It’s At,” “Excited” and “Papaya,” produced by longtime friend and frequent collaborator daedaePIVOT, who also co-executive produced CARE FOR ME in collaboration with Daoud and Saba, represent several of his latest releases, further developing a relatively lo-fi-driven sound that leaves just enough room for a strong voice to cut through and carry listeners throughout a two, three, four or more minute adventure.
Saba also delivered a few collaborative joints, such as the rimshot-popping “Beautiful Smile” with IDK, the uplifting “Stay Right Here” alongside Xavier Omär and fellow Chicagoan Mick Jenkins, as well as “Blood,” a crowd-moving debut release from Pivot Gang, a creative collective that counts Saba as a founding member. He also appeared in tandem with Noname and Smino on “Ace,” a soothing, standout tune from Noname’s critically-acclaimed Room 25.
What really confirms Saba’s status as the leading Chicago citizen of the year, however, is the way he and the Pivot Gang, in which Long is also an original member, celebrated and honored Long’s life through the second annual John Walt Day. The concert/fundraiser/budding holiday tradition, which took place on Nov. 24, 2018 at Concord Music Hall, benefits the John Walt Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to empower Chicago’s youth with art education and creative opportunity.
Selling out for the second year in a row, John Walt Day featured performances from the entire Pivot Gang, including Frsh Waters, MFn Melo, Joseph Chilliams and, of course, Saba, plus a special appearance from theMIND. With 1,400 fans and notable figures from Long’s family, such as his mother Nachelle Pugh, paying homage to the young artist taken far too soon, the event was a massive success and will serve as an inspiring marker of the progression of Pivot Gang for years to come.
As far as 2019 is concerned, Saba plans to continue to ride the success of CARE FOR ME during the beginning of the year as he tours throughout Europe, hitting Germany, the Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom, among other locations. There are also rumorsthat Saba, Smino and Noname, three of the most influential Chicago-groomed hip-hop artists at the moment, may release a project together. And while it’ll be tough for the 24-year-old to top what was undoubtedly a career-elevating 365 days, albeit laced with heartache, I’m looking forward to consuming whatever he comes with next.
You can read the entire article about Saba’s ‘Chicagoan of the Year’ recognition here, and you can stream his near-if-not-perfect project, CARE FOR ME, below. Congrats on an incredible 2018, Saba!