meet saba, chicago's newest creative force
Chicago is a town renowned for its rich musical history: from Muddy Waters and Nat King Cole through to Twista, Common, and Lupe Fiasco, right up to today's greats such as Chief Keef, Chance The Rapper and, of course, Kanye West. As its exports suggest, Chi-Town is a city that offers diverse sonic experiences; from its rich lineage within house, to road-ready drill, to contemporary off-kilter kids like Chance and Vic Mensa, Chi-Town has given its heart and soul to music for over 100 years.
The latest hot kid to emerge is 21 year old rapper, producer, writer and sometime singer Saba, who definitely has more in common with Chance (with whom he features with on "Angels") than he does Chief Keef. Influenced by everything from Bone Thugs N Harmony to Neo Soul, Saba's sound is heaven sent.
Premiering today on i-D, "World In My Hands" is the perfect example of Saba's style. Produced by Saba, Dae Dae (for CHAD) and Phoelix, Saba flips his fast flow over a tantalizing piano riff teamed with razor sharp snares. LEGIT and St. Louis's Smino joins Saba as the newcomers describe their strategy for lyrical greatness.
Currently supporting Toronto's Jazz Cartier on tour (catch them at XOYO tonight), we caught up with Saba while he was in London and asked him to tell us 10 interesting things about himself. He's what he told us…
1. Although most music from Chicago originates from the south side, Saba, like Lupe Fiasco, is from the west side.
"I had a very blessed childhood on the west side of Chicago. I've always been surrounded by people that believe in me and that was more important than being surrounded by all of the negative stuff that a lot of out-of-towners try to glorify when talking about Chicago. My uncle (RIP) was one of the most important people in my childhood, he lived in our basement at the time we were trying to build a studio, and this belief in his nephews got us here today. I say I was blessed because growing up on the west side I was exposed to two completely different ways of life. My grandparents raised me and my siblings and put us in private school and that turned out to be an eye opening experience. We got to see the good and not so good in the world and in our neighborhood and develop opinions on our own rather than have false truths of how things are thrown at us. I can honestly say it's because of these experiences, I'm able to think differently than a lot of preconceived ideas about our city."
2. Music is in Saba's DNA.
"My dad [was in a band] and they play everything, literally. Seeing how they incorporated all different types of sounds into what they do definitely inspired me to begin playing with a band in the first place. The sense of total control was just something I felt like I watched them possess, and the freedom to play whatever it is they desire. The best thing someone has said to me was probably one of the many quotes that my dad would make me repeat when I was younger. They instilled in me that I grew up positive through everything I've dealt with, which helped me to remain confident in my journey."
3. Saba made his first song at the age of nine.
"I played the piano since a young kid down in the basement. I had really basic equipment, though, like a karaoke machine and a tape recorder! I started to collect bits and pieces and put out my first mixtape when I was 15."
4. We can thank Bone Thugs for Saba becoming a rapper.
"One of my biggest inspirations growing up was Bone Thugs N Harmony. It's kind of crazy to think about, but hearing the song 'Notorious Thugs' literally made me want to become a rapper when I was about eight or nine. I also consider Pharrell to have had a big influence on me wanting to make music. I would also credit Chicago legends like Twista and Crucial Conflict, 'Ye and Lupe to how I ended up here. And I would say Noname, she is the greatest rapper of all time. Being able to work with her has definitely had a lot to do with my own growth as an artist. Outside of music, travel is probably my biggest influence, and it's great that through music I get to travel. I think interactions with people, even random people, are big influences on my music too. Through that I feel like I see how the world works, how people think."
5. We can also thank Chicago's Open Mic scene.
"We would go to all of the poetry nights and open mics to practice, really. It definitely influenced my style, because we'd try and not sound too out of place so they wouldn't kick us out! I definitely credit Young Chicago Authors and YOUMedia Center for teaching me how to perform."
6. He likes a croissant but is yet to try a crepe.
"When I'm not making music, I'm a lightweight gamer, I'm just not that good at it yet. I tried to be a skater, sucked at that, but I still enjoyed it though. I'm also a breakfast food connoisseur, though I'm not sure I'm allowed to say this because I've never had a crepe."
7. His sister is the most important person in his life.
"I only have one. Keeping her positive and happy about life is a big deal to me. That young age is really important because I feel like this is when people start to develop their views of the world, and in high school there will be a lot of people that try to hold you back from pursuing your dreams, and they are gonna think they are doing it from a place of love, but it is fear. And I want my sister fearless like all of the other great women in my life. My best friend is probably my DJ, Damnage, who is the most clutch person I've probably ever met. He just gets shit done, is great at what he does, but does everything. Also, we've been playing shows together for quite a while now so I think it was just the natural progression of things. If Lil Dam Dam don't trust you... Noname, she saved my life. I've also been working with her since we were teenagers, she might be my BFF in real life."
8. He doesn't drink but the champagne bottle emoji is Saba's fave.
"It's funny because I don't drink, but the 'it's a celebration bitches, Charlie Murphy' skit from Dave Chappelle plays in my head pretty much anytime I use it. It's my mood 99.9 percent of the time."
9. Saba was a little shy at school. But weren't we all?
"I remember pretty much everyone's first and last name from school, you might have to ask one of them what I was like at school. I was very quiet, hadn't quite broken out of my shell. I would pretty much sit alone for lunch -- that kinda guy, get all awkward when you talk to me. But for some reason, I did always feel pretty much accepted even though I didn't say much. School was the most boring place on earth to me, even though I generally did well in school. I was a completely different person around my house."
10. Forthcoming track "Symmetry" is the closest he's written to a love song.
"I made that with Ken Ross, he was behind a bunch of everyone's favorite songs from Comfort Zone. I've been testing it at shows now for quite some time and it seems to always go over well, it's a nice change of vibe. It's the song I'm probably the most excited to release and it's finally almost time. Watch this space."
Text Hattie Collins
Photography Damnage Here