Since releasing his acclaimed sophomore album Care For Me back in 2018, Chicago rapper Saba has been fairly quiet, putting out just a handful of guest verses, dropping an album with his best friends, and penning an op-ed about the challenges of making money as an independent musician.
He also released a couple of one-off solo singles to keep fans satiated while they waited for a full album. Sonically, those tracks slotted neatly into the mold Saba established on Care For Me and Bucket List Project—“Ziplock,” “Rich Don’t Stop,” and “So And So” all flaunted the melancholic, easygoing production that was so prominent on those records. But his latest, Few Good Things, is an attempt to break from that previously established mold. The result is an energetic, often surprising collection of production styles that make for an exciting addition to Saba’s growing catalog.
Where Care For Me dealt with the emotional fallout of the murder of Saba’s cousin Walter Long Jr., Few Good Things is a bit more thematically all-embracing. The Chicago native re-examines his family history and upbringing, and learns to find the beauty in his experiences.
Saba, along with frequent collaborators Daoud and daedaePIVOT, set out to shatter listener expectations with Few Good Things. (“Let’s just do everything different than how we did it,” Saba said in a recent interview with Stereogum) For the most part, they succeed. On lead single “Fearmonger,” Saba balances heavy subject matter like economic anxiety atop a plucky, funky guitar beat. And on “Survivor’s Guilt,” he links up with fellow Chicago MC G Herbo for an explosive drill joint with one of the best hooks in Saba’s catalog.
And that burst of standout features is what helps make Few Good Things so exciting. Chicago staples Eryn Allen Kane and Benjamin Earl Turner make welcome appearances on the bubbly detour “An Interlude Called ‘Circus,’” and the melodic “If I Had A Dollar,” respectively. Midwest hip-hop legend Krayzie Bone stops by to trade lyrical tongue twists with Saba on “Come My Way.” And it would be remiss of us to not mention Black Thought’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it verse on album closer “Few Good Things.”
Not all the experiments work, unfortunately. The minimalist, restrained beat that underlines “Stop That” goes against the urgency with which Saba talks his shit. And not everything is a drastic departure from what came before: Tracks like “Soldier” and “Make Believe” feel in line with the laid back, mellow production listeners are accustomed to from Saba. But even in those moments, he is still showing a different side of himself, like on “Soldier,” where he speaks on his fear of bringing a child into the world (“I hope the world learn to value the life of my unborn”) or him questioning his sobriety on “Make Believe.” (“Just lost a friend to an overdose / Make me question what I’m even sober for”)
Despite all the forays into new subject matter, the constant throughout Few Good Things’ experimentation and killer guest verses is Saba’s urgent, diaristic lyricism. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the album’s penultimate track, “2012.” With help from Oakland indie rock outfit Day Wave, Saba pens a four-minute ode to his 2012 self. Rather than being overly reverent or wistful, Saba revisits the bad alongside the good, and paints a comprehensive portrait of that time in his life. He has no interest in sanitizing the harsher elements of his reality, but he recognizes the beauty in the struggle.