Chicago family history fuels Saba’s nostalgic new album


Saba’s music captures the full spectrum of life: joy, sadness, love, grief, victory, loss, poverty, wealth and everything in between.

Raised in the Austin neighborhood, Saba – born Tahj Chandler – honed her craft as a writer and performer at local songwriting workshops and open mics. This organic ascent and lyrics that explore the dynamic between the brightest and darkest times of his life have garnered a fanbase that connects to his music on an almost spiritual level.

Saba’s 2018 album “Care For Me” was the first to earn her national critical acclaim, but was influenced by tragedy: the stabbing a year earlier of her cousin and collaborator, John Walt. Along with Walt, Saba helped form the music collective Pivot Gang. After her cousin’s death, Saba and other band members started the annual John Walt Day concert and used the proceeds from the show to fund a John Walt foundation that aims to help young artists and families in Chicago.

Saba’s new sequel, “Few Good Things,” was preceded by another loss, this time the shooting of her touring DJ and producer SqueakPIVOT. Saba wrote an open letter that accompanied the release in which he said his album, and black culture in general, was more than just trauma. “Our culture is not clickbait,” he said in bold.

Saba, who moved to Los Angeles, spoke ahead of her return to Chicago for a May 5 show at the Aragon Ballroom.

Q Your latest album, “Few Good Things”, is nostalgic for your time here. Why did you decide to move?

A. The decision to start spending more time in LA was more career-based, you know? Just being where I felt I needed to be to make things happen as far as the album goes. I still spend a lot of time in Chicago. All my family, all my people are still in Chicago. So you know, there are months when I’m more in Chicago than in LA

Q Along with the album, you made a short film that shows a decades-long period of Chicago neighborhoods, redlining, and what happened to black homeowners. Your grandfather tells. Why did you want to make a film about this story in particular?

A. I come from a fairly close-knit family and I realized that I didn’t know much about it. I didn’t really have a story, and I think a lot of the identity comes from the story. You know, you find out where your people are from and what that experience is like, and then you feel a stronger connection with yourself because that’s your genetic makeup. So for me, that’s what “Few Good Things” went through. When I was writing about a lot of these songs, I was talking to my grandfather and hearing some of these stories that I had never heard. So when we were putting the short together, it made sense to try to create like the embodiment of those stories to tell that story.

Q One of the featured artists on your album is G Herbo, who surprised some fans outside of Chicago because of the different styles of music you make. He does drill, which has risen in popularity from this hyperlocal subgenre to this global mainstream hip-hop phenomenon. But he has also been criminalized by government officials from the start because of his violent lyrics and gang ties. Was it important for you to connect with a trailblazer like Herb in terms of helping break the stigma around drilling?

A. I’m from Chicago. If you go back to 2014 for some of my first interviews, I always credited and showed love for the drill scene. Because for me, it wasn’t that different from what we were doing. And what I’ve always described as the perspective was different. It’s like, I can look at this and say, “That’s what I saw.” They can say, “That’s what I did. And I think, for me, it’s never been so different for me. It describes the same city, it describes the same Chicago and the same grief and the same, you know, the same story.

So for me, Herb has always been – you know, at the end of the day, rap is rap, and this man can rap.

Alejandro Hernandez is a freelance writer from Chicago.


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