Published Nov 02, 2016Chicago, the apparent poster child city for arts incubation, has again staked its claim to 2016 with the release of Saba's Bucket List Project. Following the lead of fellow Chicagoan artists Vic Mensa, Chance The Rapper and Noname (who makes an appearance on "Church/Liquor Store"), Saba has independently produced and released an album of the highest calibre, hindered only by unavoidable comparisons to those same artists.
Opener "In Loving Memory" starts things somewhat awkwardly with some unexpected rappity-rap over gentle keys that stops short before developing into anything remarkable. Thankfully, Saba finds his groove on "Stoney" and "GPS," featuring fellow west side Chi neighbour and legend Twista. Much of the album's production is handled by Saba and collaborator Phoenix, including the standout "MOST" with its catchy, albeit nearly indecipherable chorus.
"American Hypnosis" finds Saba at his most introspective, opening up about social anxiety, family traumas and the salvation found in learning how to play the piano. The song is, in many ways, reminiscent of Kendrick's "Real," a likely influence given Saba's penchant for dynamic vocal inflections.
The project's title is danced around throughout the recording, from riding in buckets to interludes where Saba's peers call in to itemize their personal bucket list items. While inferences can be made to Chicago's high homicide rate and kids only just rounding 20 years old sharing surprisingly brief wish lists, the takeaway here is far less worrisome — the lists reflect young people planning for a future, juvenile goals and all. Lupe Fiasco and Saba's father both make appearances here, too.
The challenge for Saba is rising above his contemporaries. Bucket List Project is similar enough to efforts like Acid Rap or Telephone to mesh well on a playlist, but not unique enough for Saba to stand on his own yet. Not that there isn't hope — Saba has helmed a solid project, buoyed by a scene that seems unstoppable. Let's see where that momentum leads. (Independent/Saba Pivot LLC)