SABA: CARE FOR ME
Words by Veronique Lalley
Just before the release of ‘CARE FOR ME’, Saba posted a photo on Instagram with the caption, ‘I AM VERY BUSY, I WILL HIT YOU BACK LATER’. Little did his followers know, Saba was about to release one of the most hard-hitting and emotional albums of 2018. ‘CARE FOR ME’ illustrates various subjects, from a diminishing faith in God, grief, love-less relationships, the physical strains of the music industry, and most prominently, an overall feeling of emptiness. The album switches between these subjects and is clearly curated in a specific order to tell a story about feeling alone. In the words of Elias Light of Rolling Stone, Saba’s most harrowing and heavy beats “celebrate nuance”, as Saba juxtaposes lyrics that are “joyful and tragic, triumphant and anxiety-ridden, all at once”. This is the reality of depressive episodes – there is no consistency, and there are extreme highs and extreme lows.
‘BUSY / SIRENS’ stands as an introduction to the inner turmoil that Saba experiences; he opens the album with ‘I’m so alone’. The rap continues as he says, ‘never no peer pressure’, as he is emphasizing the idea that many who face depression can’t pin-point an event that caused it. Loneliness can be seen as both a symptom and a precursor to depression. Being ‘busy’ is a reoccurring theme throughout the album. In ‘LIFE’, Saba explains that he was busy touring when his uncle died, and in ‘PROM / KING’, Saba raps about how he was busy in the studio when his cousin, Walt, was killed.
The theme of ‘being busy’ further illustrates a deeper cyclical depression that Saba experiences; he feels as though his career compromises his ability to be present with his family and friends, who need him.
Saba also frequently references police brutality throughout the album. This is explicitly emphasized in ‘SIRENS’, as Saba raps, ‘Cause I know they serve and protect, but they think I’m servin’, Or they think my cellphone’s a weapon…” Here, he is most likely referencing Stephon Clark, the California teen who was shot by police in early 2018 because the officers ‘mistook’ his cellphone for a gun. Police brutality continues to be a massive problem across the United States, and Saba speaks to this when he raps, ‘sirens on the way, ayy, now you’re lying there where the angels lay…’ Ironically, these sirens ‘on the way’ are the same ones that leave African Americans across the country dead. Police sirens are meant to emit a sound that represents safety and hope. In reality, they represent an omen of death for African Americans.
BROKEN GIRLS’ follows a different struggle Saba experiences. He discusses his experiences with chasing after women who are ‘broken’, emphasizing the temporary nature of relationships in which the two lovers use one another. There is a back-and-forth nature within ‘BROKEN GIRLS’. At one point, Saba raps, ‘she was my, quick escape, made me forget’. He also raps, ‘she wasn’t mine, that wasn’t love, I wasn’t hers.’ Saba’s narrative draws a line between lust and love, and Saba insinuates that ultimately, they are BOTH broken. They are involved in a relationship where they take advantage of one another to feel less empty.
‘GREY’ is one of my favorite songs on the album. While the song isn’t the first on the tracklist, it sets a mood and emphasizes the message that Saba is ultimately trying to convey. Grey is a natural color lacking vibrancy which is associated with loss or depression; this is Saba’s version of his personal ‘ennui’. ‘GREY’ more specifically represents the troubles of the music industry and how the songs that will ‘sell well’ take precedent over more soulful tunes that artists record. Saba opens the song with:
‘the best song is probably on the B-side, won’t be surprised when the label deny…’
– ‘B-Sides’ are the original songs recorded that are not included on the final cut of the album. I find this song particularly intriguing because, as listeners, we have no idea what happens in the writing/recording/releasing stages of making an album. We are given the opportunity to listen to what is released on Spotify, and that’s that.
Saba refreshingly illustrates the struggle between the label’s influence and the artist’s influence in relation to the final project. He also references the evolution of the hip-hop genre and the changing demands of the industry due to the genre’s growing popularity. Saba doesn’t want to be associated with many of today’s hip-hop artists who are ‘infatuated with plastic’. ‘GREY’ opens the discussion about the strains that are placed on artists by the record labels and the pressure to release ‘hits’. According to Saba, while a single may not be as ‘honest’, it’s the one the labels say will ‘make you the hottest’.
‘LOGOUT’ featuring Chance the Rapper is probably my favorite track. The two Chicago natives discuss the detrimental effects of social media, and how social media merely maximizes the feeling of loneliness. Saba suggests that our attachment to social media leads to more toxic levels of insecurity. Chance’s verse illustrates a more personal struggle that he faces in terms of the Internet. Chance the Rapper is one of the first ‘streaming-only’ and independent artists to ever win a Grammy. Since then, his fame has sky-rocketed and he has used his platform in order to give back to his community in which he was raised. He is well-known for his generosity towards Chicago Public Schools, donating endless time and money to better the lives of the students, teachers, and community throughout. However, he explains that while social media has highlighted his charitable acts, it also facilitates the scrutiny. Social media enables public backlash if Chance doesn’t continue with his philanthropic actions, which he emphasizes with ‘everybody want Santa’. Social media enables the downfall, because after all, ‘everybody got camera’s’.
‘PROM/KING’ discusses a troubling story where Saba is threatened to be killed by his prom date’s brother. The track, in my opinion, is the most fluid because it sounds like an audio book; Listeners are being told a story. The song also discusses Saba’s changing relationship with his cousin Walt. ‘KING’ on the other hand describes the lead-up to Walt’s brutal death, detailing how Saba was in the studio working on Bucket List Project when the altercation between his cousin and the killer ensued. I find that the most haunting piece of this song is the outro, in which listeners are presented with Walt himself, repeating, ‘I just hope I make it til’ tomorrow’. It’s important to note that Saba’s deceased cousin was a creative soul himself; Walter John Jr. was a member of Saba’s Pivot Gang Crew and performed as ‘dinnerwithjohn’. Saba plays with dramatic irony by including Walt’s plea to live another day in a song that honors his memory and emphasizes the fragility of life – this is ‘just another day in the ghetto’. ‘HEAVEN ALL AROUND ME’, the finale of the album, refers to Saba’s faith and may represent his cousin leaving the Earth.
I am extremely passionate about this album because, although brief, it is curated to tell a story –the album resembles a large book that you can’t put down. ‘CARE FOR ME’ is one of those albums that you play on a loop while you lay on your bed and stare at the ceiling. In an interview with Sway In The Morning, Saba says that in the process of making the album, he felt he was ‘making something undeniable’. Writing an album like this is cathartic; Saba is essentially caring for himself by exploring the various narratives of his deepest hardships. It’s therapeutic, and Saba emphasizes that every person’s experience of listening to ‘CARE FOR ME’ is a subjective experience. Another reason why I love this album is because, as cliché as this sounds, it’s different. I’m a huge hip-hop and rap fan, and I support the notion that this musical genre succeeds in telling stories like no other. It could be argued, however, that much of hip-hop and rap is starting to sound the same. The same subject matter. The same beats. The verses seem to all illustrate the following: sex, riding around in Rolls-Royce Wraiths, private jets, ‘flexing’, throwing bills in the air, etc. It’s all the same. ‘CARE FOR ME’, however, emphasizes the subjects that we are afraid to write about. We don’t want to appear ‘weak’, but the most admirable part about Saba’s music is how he manifests his weaknesses and vulnerability into creative energy and music.