Album Review: Saba—“Bucket List Project”

By Keshav Sharma-Jaitly, Feature Photo via The Village Voice

Chicago’s “new school” of hip-hop musicians have already put out some of the best albums of the year with Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book and Noname’s Telefone. With Bucket List Project, rapper and singer Saba is allowed to spread his wings, and in the process, gives both of those albums a run for their money. Saba specializes in soulful, colourful production, and thoughtful lyrics. The production takes a trap approach, but with a soul sensibility. Warm synthesizers and gorgeous vocal harmonies mix with skittering hi-hats and synthesized snare drum, beautifully mixing old and new styles. Saba’s rap is fast and poetic, and he manages to give this album a sense of breathless continuity.

This album speaks on a couple topics, most notably life’s impermanence, and finding happiness. It also serves as a way for Saba to reflect on his upbringing. During the introduction “In Loving Memory,” Saba asks “When I’m dead, and I’m gone, will you smile, cuz you know where I’ve been?” It’s a great way to introduce the listener to profound ideas. “Church/Liquor Store” pays homage to Chicago, as Noname raps “They gentrified your neighborhood, no need for cops, watch, Look at the yoga pants, coffee shops and yogurt stands, Consumerism, holy land.” The honesty on this project is admirable, and the listener is able to feel the emotion of seeing your childhood home change.

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Album cover for “Bucket List Project”

The end of this album takes more of an optimistic view towards life. In “California,” Saba moves from Chicago to a new town and finds success. It’s rewarding to have songs written from a happy place, especially after the earlier tracks in which Saba makes it clear what he’s been through. The final song “World in My Hands” is optimistic, but addresses some of the album’s more serious topics as well, such as police brutality. The song ends on a chorus of “daydreaming is real when we wake up, gave my all but can’t say I gave up, they wonder what these dreams are made of.” It’s a statement that perfectly compliments the album’s opening statement, and a great resolution.

What helps Bucket List Project shine is that it’s tied together by a concept. Every few songs, one of Saba’s friends deliver a spoken word interlude, detailing what’s on their bucket list. These start out as funny and simple, such as Will Fountain’s desire to eat at In-N-Out, but eventually becomes grand and ambitious. The best example of this is Jean Deaux’s wish of de-gentrifying neighbourhoods in Chicago. It’s really impressive to see a concept that works this well. It’s a subtle way of delivering grander ideas within an album, without intruding on the music.

“There’s rarity in my realness,” Saba raps on “Church/Liquor Store.” This is readily apparent from the start of Bucket List Project. This album is the result of true honesty, between Saba and the listener, as well as Saba and himself. Philosophical, skilled rap and soulful production makes this one of Chicago’s best releases of the year. (Saba Pivot, LLC)

 

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