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Recognising Life’s Few Good Things – An Interview with Saba

Revelling in introspection, Saba’s Few Good Things recognises blessings and the search for fulfilment.

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Emerging as one of Hip-Hop’s most successful independent artists, Saba continues to sharpen his musical career with the release of his third studio album, Few Good Things. Four years on since his last album Care for Me – which still garners strong praise from the music community, Few Good Things reinforces the Chicago rapper’s reputation as an integral artist for inimitable voices. When Saba began making music, he was just 8 years old. Throughout the years, he continued to explore his sound and naturally acquired the skills to play various instruments which were all self-taught. Saba then, alongside a group of his neighbourhood friends, formed Pivot Gang which saw them travel across the city to perform at open mics. The connections formed within the collective are that of familial and are so organically represented in the Few Good Things short film that was released alongside the album. 

When listening to the project we reflected on the importance of Saba’s poignant dialogue and commitment to sincerity, as it allows many of his listeners – especially young, black creatives to have their own experiences validated and honoured through lyricism. So, when we had the opportunity to sit down with Saba, some of the things we talked about were the boundaries that he has placed when skilfully extracting from his inventory of conversation, anecdotal experience, and raw emotion on the project.

Congratulations on the release of your third album Few Good Things. This must be really exciting for you – how are you feeling with it all?
Thank you for one. It’s been awesome, easily the most exciting release that I’ve had and one of the most embraced releases, which people are, you know, singing high praises of it really early. I’m just really grateful for the whole experience, it’s been really cool to kind of watch everything roll out. 

Yeah, and it’s been obviously a couple of years—almost four years I think since you last released an album. When did you start working on this one?
Honestly, the earliest song we started working on is ‘If I Had A Dollar’, which we started working on before Care for Me was even released… so I would say probably about four years (laughs).

In terms of the creative process and how you sort of went about things – do you feel like you did some things differently this time?
Yeah, it was a lot different. I mean one of the main things is that Care for Me took a few months. We maybe worked on Care for Me for like three or four months… it was a really quick album to make. And this one took four years, so that’s one of the big differences right there because you know, they’re thoughts that have to remain true over a certain amount of time. It’s not condensed, quick thoughts that I just like woke up today feeling like this. It’s like I woke up this year feeling like this… and then this next year I’m still thinking about this. So, I think subject matter had to also match that and I think sonically we’re able to go into a lot of different places because it’s happening over so much time. We gotta keep updating songs and I think one of the goals is keeping the music timeless because you don’t want to be able to spot anything. You know, even sonically like spotting a snare from 2015 (laughs) you know what I mean. You don’t want to be able to tell when the music is made, which is always a big deal to me. Then the last and probably the strangest thing is that like half this album was made during the pandemic. So, you know we were having sessions just like how me and you are talking right now. We were just on zoom making some of these songs, mixing the records on zoom you know doing vocals. There were some songs I would just record like right here (motions next to him) with a mic and my producers in the zoom. So, having the music still sound organic and authentic digitally was important.

Exactly, and I mean going through the motions of different world events – including the pandemic, did you feel like the length time you had between albums allowed you to fully express everything that you had been feeling over these past couple years?
I think with the pandemic, and just the kind of quarantine phase of it, it allowed people to tap back into their own self – it was like self-checkout time. I think a lot of us kind of did self-check ins and realised we didn’t like something about what we were thinking, on just an average day. It’s like the things that I’m thinking is not necessarily healthy or positive to my well-being and I think making this album in that [phase], really allows you to tap back into what you value and what you think is important. Even sonically it allows you to be like ‘fuck trying to make a song to please anybody’. It’s just like I’m just making shit for me at this point. It really helps the music to be true and to be honest and authentic to who you are as an artist.

Yeah, that’s super important and I think that not only adds to the value of the project but also allows you to stay true to what creativity means to you. Across your discography, your lyrics often reflect that of a storyteller or someone who’s drawing upon personal experiences – which you have delivered so beautifully. What period of your life are you choosing to share with us in Few Good Things?
All of it (laughs). There’s like memories that date back to childhood, there’s memories that date back to just family stories that I wasn’t even there for, you know… I might not have even been born yet. So, I think because the album and in addition the short film, is meant to play out as like this generational dialogue – there are lines that [reflect] me at 18, me at 27 you know, me in the future. There are even hypothetical conversations. Like a lot of these songs are about me starting a family. And you know, there is also my teenager songs where a lot of it takes place in 2012 so, 18-year-old Saba I think appears in a lot of these songs in some way or one way or another.

I must ask, because I was going back and forth with someone about some of the songs where you talk about having a family. I hope this is not too personal but is that reflective of something that’s happened to you recently?
So, it’s hypothetical. When I was working on this album a lot of my really close friends were having children and it was just something that I began to think about and imagine for myself. So, anything that I’m thinking is always gonna appear in the music, you know ’cause that’s where all my thoughts go (laughs).  

Of course, and I guess this is also relating to the more personal reflections that appear in your music. How do you navigate that specifically? Are you pretty free and fluid with how much of yourself you put in your music or are you more selective with what sort of personal experiences you want to reflect on?
Can I ask you a question first? 

Of course.
You said you arguing with somebody, I wanna know which side you were you?

I said you were saying it hypothetically! But then listening back to it they started convincing me and then I was like, you know what…maybe he is a dad.
(Saba laughs)

But when I listened to the album the first time, I was just carried through the different songs by understanding that this was just the tip that you were on. And I guess I just gathered that you were thinking about that sort of stuff… but they were like… no he’s a dad!
(Both laughNo, you’re absolutely right but that’s hella funny though (laughs). Yeah, but to answer the question, I think that the stories that I tell I do try to be cognizant of what I’m sharing. There is still a border, there’s a layer of protection, a layer of safety that I like to keep with myself and the information that I have of my own experience and with fans. Just because it’s really easy to blur those lines because the information is personal, it just leads to a lot of people thinking that they know you. Fans want to talk to you a certain way or you know, I’m sharing a lot of shit that I don’t want to just have to talk about casually. So, that’s something that I feel like I learned from an experience like Care for Me. You know, it was super near and dear and close to my heart and just having to recognise that other people’s relationship to what I’m sharing is that it’s just a song… it’s not a traumatic event. So, people talk to you like how they would talk about a song. So, that was a learning experience that had led me to be way more selective of what I was sharing on this album.

Definitely, and I guess you can see both lyrically and production-wise the different moods and topics that you touch on [across your discography] which sets the vibe of how deep or how light or how introspective you’re choosing to be. So, between Care for Me and Few Good Things you did release lots of new music alongside plenty of amazing artists. How did you go about choosing the features for this album?
I feel like I made my feature decisions based on who I’m a fan of. Like I’ve been a lifelong fan of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, like they are the reason that I ever tried to rap in the first place. So, it’s like that’s always been a dream feature of mine and you know being from Chicago I’ve always wanted to work with G Herbo and then there’s people that I have had relationships with for years. Pivot Gang that’s my family you know so, of course, they’re on a song and the song is all about family. Then there’s Smino who is somebody that I’ve been working really closely with for years so, it’s just an array of artists. And I’m just a fan still like I’m such a big Fousheé fan – like all of my Spotify ‘year in’ just said My Slime by Fousheé on everything. Also, Day Wave is basically this like alternative, indie rock guy from the Bay Area out here and I learned about his music in 2015 on a flight to San Francisco. The aeroplane had this little profile on his music and that was what put me on, and I just immediately reached out as a fan, and we were able to make a few records together. But I’m still a fan first and artist second, so I’m just trying to produce albums with the imagination of a fan. 

Yeah, that’s super cool and even seeing someone like Black Thought on your album is so dope. What was it like working with someone who’s such an OG?
Me, Smino and Noname released the Ghetto Sage record and in the chorus he says, “I get the bands like the roots” and they used to do these Grammy parties before the pandemic and me and Smino performed with The Roots. It was Questlove playing the drums and Black Thought was on stage hyping us up and shit. And just like seeing OGs reach out and show love and embrace us like that was really exciting. You know, sometimes we run into people and they’re like “hey you know, whatever you need let me know” and I don’t know, in that moment it felt like he meant that. So, we just stayed in contact, and I called him when I finally had the song that I wanted to do with him, and I was just happy he was really receptive. And we had a talk, it was pretty brief though, but it was just about the importance of the song, what it’s supposed to represent, and you know he really took to everything I said and then just went way above and beyond my own expectations. 

Amazing! Well thank you Saba for chatting to us, we really hope to see you visit Australia again soon.
I appreciate it! I will definitely, 1000%. As soon as I can leave and we can go to Australia and set something up, I’ll be there.

Follow Saba here for more and stream the new album Few Good Things here.

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