'Care For Me' & Saba's Battle With Life In Grayscale

saba-care-for-me.JPG

Released 12 days ago, Saba’s Care For Me has already taken on a larger than life stature in Chicago music. The project strikes a chord with its hyper-specific portrait of Saba’s personal life. The picture isn't always pretty, but heartbreaking-ly honest and painfully beautiful. With the loss of his cousin John Walt, Saba felt the color drain from his life. Care For Me is Saba floating through a mental fog, fighting to reclaim a bright world for himself.

The album cover of Care For Me presents Saba in his Grandmother’s kitchen, an image in black and white. His family is the center of his universe, and so is the weight of his depression. Even the production from Daoud and Daedae features the somber black and white keys of a piano on every track. But lyrics are where Saba truly resides, and the battle between light and dark can be seen throughout.

Following the death of John Walt, Saba struggles with a life void of flavor, going through motions that seem pointless. “Fighter” lays out Saba’s battle with guilt clearly, “Still feeling the guilt that Walt never thought to call / Fightin’ myself to get out of bed / I’m fightin’ myself to get out of bed / fightin’ myself.” This sorrow starts to take over. 

Bucketlist Project was optimism incarnate, but that feeling is gone now, and the reverse takes course. On “Life”, that bright world once offering so much couldn’t make room for the vibrant joy of his cousin, and has been washed out.  “Light don't mean lit in the dark / fight don't mean fists, ooh / Eyes don't see, eyes don't see / ice don't freeze / Light don't leave / I don't mean lie to me.” The light is gone. 

Saba is aimless, disoriented with loss, drifting through life without definition. “Busy” is the first track on the album and it sets a distinct tone. “I ain't let nobody in—Jesus got killed for our sins / Walter got killed for a coat / I'm tryna' cope, but it's a part of me gone and apparently I'm alone.” His emotional state is one of fear and isolation - “I'm havin' a busy day / I'll hit you back right away / I seen that skies were grey / I hope to God you're safe.” Saba can no longer connect, instead hiding himself in his words and “Calligraphy”, black ink on white paper - “Write it away, write it away / I just got tired of runnin' away, runnin' away / Everyone leavin' / I write 'em away write 'em away / Calligraphy.”

Saba feels it in his career as well, battling dry expectations. In “Grey”,  he raps that  “The single the one that wasn't as honest / But this is what they say make you the hottest in the / game—grey.” Not only fighting to control his most personal expression, but his identity. “Infatuated with plastic / I wanted it to be realer / first they wanted real hip hop and then they wanted guerrilla / then they wanted drug dealer / and then they wanted a dancer / now they want a drug addict.” That same emptiness applies to social media in “Logout, where Saba asks “Look at how much fun I'm havin' / Ain't' no beauty in the absence of broadcastin' to your followers.” Living in reality’s shadow.

And yet, this is not a hopeless album. Saba begins to understand what’s most important to him. If Bucketlist Project was about achievements, Care For Me is about peace. In the face of loss, Saba’s memories live on, inserting color back into his world. “Smile” brings Saba back to a happy past in the dismal present,   “Sweet west side Chicago, two-flat apartment / Red brick and garden / that's been forgotten / Grass all splotchy / vacant lot splotchy / bank account splotchy.”

At the end of “Grey”, he rebels against the expectations constricting him, and blasts a shining  rap bursting with life and energy. “Care for me, carefully, back with more clarity / Back like consecutive, I told you motherfuckers like Oedipus / Heather B, Sway in the Morning / painter that paint like a portrait / Action, I aim for the target / aim for the fame but the fortune cool / Alterin' the altitude, offerin' the thought for food / Offerin' that art that move, hmm...How could you not be moved? I don't give them an option to.” He can’t not feel any longer.

It’s when Saba is reminiscing on the past that his words are at their most vivacious, pulling himself out of the grey into a world of color. That’s where “Prom / King” and “Heaven All Around Me” come in, the spiritual bedrock of Care For Me. After 8 songs of drifting, in “Prom / King” Saba faces his loss, but finds love in his memories of John Walt. The beginning kicks off with “This remind me of before we had insomnia / Sleepin' peacefully, never needed a pile of drugs / Everybody was college-bound, no dollar amounts.” Over the course of the song, Saba vividly recreates his memories with Walt, from prom, to open mics, to trips to Texas. At the end, he’s gone, but he’s been resurrected in song, as it ends with vocals from Walt himself.

Which leads into “Heaven All Around Me”, written from the perspective of John Walt himself. “Chalk outline look like the shape of my shadow / Can go right through the wall if I try touch.” His life fades into grey and yet he’s bathed in the light - ”There's heaven all around / No, I can't feel pain but I can see the stars / I ain't leave in vain but I know we with God.” 

Saba’s world around him may be dark, but the light inside him keeps burning, and the memories of his loved ones will live forever.