Album Review: #7: Saba- Bucket List Project
by sarah muhammad
2016 has been a phenomenal year for music in Chicago, with releases from the legends, all the way down to the novices. With so much success coming from one city, it is easy for the talent of some to become overshadowed in the excitement of the frontrunners. I first saw West Side rapper Saba perform at the Young Chicago Authors at the end of 2011. With his quick wit and skillful flow, he appeared on Chance The Rapper’s Acid Rap in 2012 and since has worked with other Chicago artists such as Mick Jenkins, Noname, and the Social Experiment. Putting out consistent quality project after project, it came as no surprise to me that I instantly fell in love with his latest, titled the Bucket List Project, and I will go on record to say that this in my most recommended project of the year. The Bucket List Project comprises a collection of songs that cover life, success, growth, Saba’s upbringing, spirituality, and just being thankful for the blessings around you, but most of all, it exemplifies Saba’s hunger as an artist with a message. Much of the album’s style takes on a down tempo jazz feel, though there are some that encompass the hard hitting hip hop beats which makes a project stand out. For added thematic touch, at the end of each song, we get a message from various artists about what is on their bucket lists. The album begins with a short song called “In Loving Memory”, where Saba delivers rapid fire bars in spoken word style over jazz rhythms, reminiscing on overcoming hardships, where the repeated line is “Turn a obstacle obsolete”. On the song “Stoney”, the rapper cleverly referred to his crappy car as a ‘bucket’ and talks about being happy to have a car at all instead of having to ride the CTA (Chicago’s public transit), a very relatable narrative of a lot of city kids, including myself (“Pull up in my bucket and I’m feeling like fuck it/Felt the same way when I ain’t pull up in nothing/CTA short, balling on a budget/Riding in this hooptie till the next thing coming”). On “Church/Liquor Store”, Saba teams with rapper Noname to paint a soulful picture of the detriment to the Black neighborhoods, both economically and in regards to gun violence, up against the forces of gentrification which are wiping the culture from the neighborhoods, creating a piercing double edged sword (“They sold prison the way they pipeline/Systematically lifeline/Erase all niggas, they so bulletproof from the law...They kept the melting pot inside the slave plot, watch/They gentrified your neighborhood no needs for cops, watch/
Look at the yoga pants, coffee shops and yogurt stands/Consumerism, holy land/And on the other hand my momma land...It look like funeral home, church, church, liquor store...”). Saba takes strong initiative to honor his side of the city, the West Side, in both “GPS”, featuring fellow West Side rapper Twista, and “Westside Bound 3”, with opening line (“And I’m from the part of the city that they don’t be talking about”), referencing how the West Side is usually neglected in conversation about Chicago, due to gang violence and poverty. Saba reaches deep into his personal story on “American Hypnosis” towards the end of the album, talking about his tough parts of his upbringing (“Had to learn my mama depression wasn't my own/Had to feel the pressures of the pessimism...First time I'd seen a gun, thinking if he'd shoot it/ Shotgun in my mama mouth, please don't do it”) and how some experiences have shaped his current life (“You ain't seen addicts until my family/Granny lost her brother, her other brother, her daddy/You wonder why I don't drink/Wonder why I don't smoke”), adding to the vulnerability and authenticity of this work. The album ends on a high note with the song “World In My Hands” featuring LeGit and Smino, a single released earlier in the year that celebrates the triumph of Saba’s growth in his career and life in spite of his struggle for the come-up. Saba has proved time and time again that his skill level is unmatchable by most and his ability to make projects with the most honest intent but still enjoyable and relatable.
Best Tracks: “Church/Liquor Store”/“World In My Hands”
Best Production: “The Billy Williams Story”/“Westside Bound 3”
*This release is the Writer’s Choice of the Year for most highly recommended project*