by Louis Chavey | May 19, 2020
Welcome back to Low-Key Likes, where I recommend an album that may have not gained the attention it warranted in a way that hopefully appeals to everyone. I’ll start with some relevant context and a summary of the project and then move on to show the value of a front-to-back listen. Last but not least, I’ll present specific songs based on different listening habits or desires. For this issue, we’ll be covering Saba’s 2018 album CARE FOR ME.
Saba, or Tahj Malik Chandler, is a Chicago-born rapper who released his sophomore album CARE FOR ME in spring of 2018. This album was inspired by the death of his cousin, Walter Long Jr., who was fatally stabbed on a Chicago train in February 2017. CARE FOR ME explores Chandler’s sorrow following this tragic event.
Everything in CARE FOR ME recounts Chandler’s emotional journey after his world is shaken by Long’s death; the loneliness, sorrow, and anguish all feel so palpable as he flows among them. Even the instrumentals, which feature jazz and more traditional hip-hop sounds, have a sort of sparseness to them, conveying the emptiness and grief Chandler wallows in; they ramp up in intensity at key moments, however, to match the strength of emotions. The simplicity allows for Chandler’s vivid, detailed story-telling to come to life; he relives fond memories with Long in great detail as if he is trying to hold on to such a cherished figure in his life with all his might. Perhaps even more poignant than the crystal-clear recollections are Chandler’s raw, vulnerable emotions on full display. At times, it seems that he is beginning to move on as a calm, resigned acceptance washes over him. Other times, he erupts and any sort of guard that he may have been putting up is completely discarded. In these moments of plaintive despondency, the background instrumentals diminish or cut out altogether as Chandler is put in the spotlight like a jazz player performing a solo, except heart-wrenching pain is his instrument of choice; seemingly on the verge of tears, he laments a lost part of himself that he will never be able to get back. Throughout the album, Chandler mourns as anyone would: By holding onto treasured, invaluable moments and letting the turbulent emotions roam free.
At just a little more than 40 minutes, CARE FOR ME is not much longer than your typical album. The most compelling aspect of this project is the story it tells; it’s at least worth one full listen. Chandler takes you along for a tumultuous yet cathartic ride that can only be truly felt by a front-to-back listen. While some songs do certainly stand out, the way they cohesively flow stylistically and narratively make them much better than they already are.
If a full album listen isn’t ideal, then CARE FOR ME can still be condensed to fit your desires. The best tracks off the album are “BUSY / SIRENS,” “LOGOUT,” and “PROM / KING.” “LOGOUT,” featuring Chance the Rapper, marks a calmer, more passive track; the cadence and unique vocal backings combine to make a great song. “BUSY / SIRENS” has the trademark combination of poignant emotion, vivid story-telling, and simple yet complementary instrumentals that characterize the album. In “PROM / KING,” Chandler recounts two important events relating to his relationship with Long. In the first part (“PROM”), Chandler painstakingly reconstructs a prom experience that goes south quickly–the brother of Chandler’s prom date (who was set up with Chandler with the help of Long) threatens to kill him. The next part, “KING,” details the lead-up to Long’s death and Chandler’s reaction. If you still want to capture the narrative of the album, a shortened tracklist would include: “BUSY / SIRENS,” “FIGHTER,” “PROM / KING,” and “HEAVEN ALL AROUND ME.” Both “BUSY / SIRENS” and “PROM / KING” focus on past memories with Long, and “FIGHTER” recounts Chandler’s own past scuffles with others but also the internal battle within himself, especially his own guilt in neglecting relationships with Long and others. Written from Long’s own perspective following his death, “HEAVEN ALL AROUND ME” is a surprisingly optimistic conclusion to the narrative that sees him ascend to heaven.