Saba Exhibits Musical Passion and Progress on 'Few Good Things'

BY Michael Di GennaroPublished Feb 3, 2022

Saba's clear love for rapping, and rap music in general, is felt in his therapeutic, diaristic writing. 2018's Care For Me was filled with brutally honest moments in which Saba admitted to being overwhelmed with his own life, distraught with grief after the passing of his cousin, fellow Pivot Gang member John Walt. It's a heartbreaking debut that introduced one of the most impressive MCs of his generation to the world, and made listeners deeply invested in his life and his art.
Those themes of stress and uncertainty carry over to Few Good Things, but in a different context. The record picks up following the acclaim of Care For Me, and Saba is now successful and rich, but no closer to feeling the security and comfort that status should bring. Instead, he only has more things to worry about: does he deserve to escape the violence of Chicago's South side more than anyone else that grew up there? How can he ensure he won't end up broke again? What will happen to his relationships with family, friends, and lovers? How can he balance the things he appreciated about his old life — even if he didn't appreciate them at the time — with the perks of his newfound success?
The first half of the album is spent almost exclusively asking these questions. On "One Way or Every N**** With A Budget", Saba shares all the new things he's been able to do and buy since making his name in music, while also expressing a subtle worry about how much he's been spending. "Survivor's Guilt" has a similarly braggadocious tone, but simultaneously hints at the conflicting feelings of leaving the environment that made him while the people he grew up around continue to live in poverty and danger. These ideas are best summed up in a single line: "What's really eating when you're from a food desert?" It's only fitting that G Herbo, perhaps the best rapper alive when it comes to chronicling sobering realities of gang life, is a guest.  
Beyond money, the relationships that Saba has fostered have clearly changed since he blew up, and much of the album's middle portion deals with the rifts his new life has created between him and the people he loves. He reasons with his woman on the Smino and 6LACK-assisted "Still," and on "Soldier," uses war as a metaphor for the fear of bringing new life into the world. The proverbial "soldier" in the song could represent a number of things: protecting his child and their mother from the harshness of the world, going on tour and leaving his family behind, or even battling with his own psyche in order to be strong and stable for his kid. Throughout all of these songs, there's an underlying feeling that despite his success, Saba may wish that he could go back to before he was Saba; before his cousin passed, before rapping was a career, when life's responsibilities were little more than showing up to homeroom on time.
Despite all of the paranoia that runs through Few Good Things, the second half of the album reveals it to have a generally happy ending, transforming into a coming-of-age story for a kid whose environment never gave him the chance to truly grow up. The album's back half takes a far more confident, positive outlook on the changes that have occurred in Saba's life, one in which he believes that he does deserve what he's worked so hard for. He's no longer wishing he had his fallen friends back; he's accepting that they have passed, and knows they're smiling down on him. He's finding balance between the connections he had in his old life, and the ones he's making in his newest chapter.
The contrast in philosophies is best shown in the difference between "Simpler Time" and penultimate track "2012." Where the former finds Saba longing to go back in time to his teen years, his raps on "2012" signal that he knows that part of his life is gone, and while he appreciates it and looks back fondly, he's no longer clinging onto it. Though Few Good Things is intensely personal, Saba understands that he's not the only person to have ever felt these things, and he communicates his own experiences in a way that invites the listener to share in the emotions that come with them, only making the album more potent.
While the stories told within Few Good Things are definitely the focal point of the record, the musicianship that accompanies it matches and at times even exceeds it. Saba appreciates what the music does for him, and he respects it by putting in the amount of work that it deserves. Instrumentals range from soulful maximalism to brute minimalism, while his rapping is as tight as ever, finding precise pockets and balancing old-school rhyme schemes with palatable, new-school flows that allow him to sound smoother over modern production than some of his more lyrically-focused counterparts. It's a combination of the best qualities of the Chicago legends Saba grew up listening to, injected with his own personality and unique, poetic writing.
(Independent/Saba Pivot LLC)

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