Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Few Good Things, Saba’s long-awaited third studio album and follow-up to 2018’s CARE FOR ME.
Born Tahj Malik Chandler, the 27-year-old Chicago rapper Saba broke out with his sophomore album, CARE FOR ME (VMP Hip-Hop No. 14), in 2018. Soon after its release, he told VMP: “I was moreso making the album for me. And this was the first time that I had ever really made music like that.” Written for himself, navigating grief and survival after his cousin and fellow Pivot Gang member John Walt was killed in 2017, it’s a melancholy and insular album in more ways than one. CARE FOR ME is cohesive and gloomy, a tight and nearly featureless 10 tracks, with just Pivot Gang producers Daoud and daedaePIVOT let in on the whole process. (Saba is a founding member of Pivot Gang, which also includes his brother Joseph Chilliams, Frsh Waters, MFnMelo and the late members Walt and squeakPIVOT.)
In the nearly four years between CARE FOR ME and Few Good Things, Saba was still releasing music, but those loosies, even 2021’s popular “Ziplock,” felt like victory laps — brimming with talent but a bit directionless. Then came “Fearmonger,” the lead single from Few Good Things. With sing-song lines dissecting financial insecurity over a bright funk bassline, it was unlike anything he’d released before. The messaging was familiar ground for Saba, but the sonics felt more like Childish Gambino circa 2016.
Saba told Uproxx that the aural whiplash was intentional, and that he dropped “Fearmonger” first “because it’s the most sonically opposite of the entire CARE FOR ME album” and he, “wanted [people] to not be sure how they felt about it.” The subsequent singles, “Stop That,” “Come My Way” and “Survivor’s Guilt,” continued to expand what to expect from Few Good Things — especially the latter, a collaboration with G Herbo bridging the (perhaps overblown) dichotomy between Chicago rappers like Chance the Rapper and Chief Keef, those with open mic origins versus purveyors of drill. Although the singles have little tying them together sonically, thematically they’re all focused on community, family, security: on home.
Few Good Things as a whole functions the same way, with home as the narrative throughline tenuously connecting the disparate sounds of the record. A short film of the same title that Saba made in collaboration with director C.T. Robert expands on this idea of home, showing an intimate, generational experience of Black family on the West Side of Chicago.
In Few Good Things the film and the album, lineage is instrumental, from the audio of calls with family members to Saba’s grandfather on the album artwork. But the concept of home for Saba, as he explained in a video interview accompanying the release of the short film, is not so much a physical place but a mindset.
Home as a mindset is a necessity for him, as Saba now splits time between Los Angeles and Chicago. Although he’s still a West Side artist through and through, you can hear LA on this album, especially in moments like the standout “Still” with 6LACK and Smino, with a writing credit from TDE’s SiR illuminating its California-meets-Midwest sound. Even when Saba leans braggadocious, like in “Stop That” (“I turned a million down a million times / That’s not a lot to me”), he circles back to family and collective responsibility: “We talking ’bout generational wealth / The pressure I built for myself / For all of the people who pics on my grandmama shelf.”
Like on CARE FOR ME, Daoud and daedaePIVOT produced almost every track on Few Good Things, but the features have increased exponentially — only two out of 14 tracks are featureless — with contributions from artists like Mereba, Fousheé, Benjamin Earl Turner and Black Thought. With this extended cast of characters, Few Good Things showcases the breadth of Saba’s talent, and is a virtuosic display of experimentation, but that makes it an uneven listen — shared themes aren’t quite enough to hold it all together.
The moments of cohesion on the record are stunning, like when the songs bookending the record, opener “Free Samples” and the closing title track, share lyrics: The closing lines of “Free Samples” (“I tried that invincible shit … I tried to spend a lil less like a minimalist / But then I can confess that this gets harder / The bigger you get”) are repeated exactly at the beginning of Saba’s last verse on the record, toward the end of “Few Good Things.” Unfortunately, these moments are a bit few and far between.
In an interview with Stereogum, Saba said he was trying to “do everything different than how we did it,” making the “anti-CARE FOR ME.” And he succeeded: Few Good Things is expansive and innovative in ways CARE FOR ME’s introversion couldn’t begin to touch. It’s a level up, and a moment of growth, but not the peak; nothing so reactionary to his previous catalog could be.
Saba’s last words on the record are: “Every line my lineage … We turned a bunch of nothing to abundance / Few good things,” echoing the themes throughout of family and home, of love overcoming scarcity. The album ends with a deep, older voice urging, “You have to tell the story.” Saba fulfilled that directive, but it’s open-ended: There’s still so much more to be told.
Theda Berry is a Brooklyn-based writer and the Assistant Editor of VMP. If she had to be a different kind of berry, she’d pick strawberry.
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