Since his acclaimed ComfortZone project hit the Internet last summer, 20 year-old Chicago rapper Saba continues to build his buzz by the month. His mix of acrobatically-structured verses, soulful production and instrumentation, and maturity as a writer has captured the attention of media outlets across the blogosphere and an eager base of listeners who have attached onto the substance of fellow Chicago rappers such as Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa and Mick Jenkins. Undoubtedly, national tours like this outing with Mick Jenkins, Pro Era up-and-comer Kirk Knight will help further his career too.We spoke with Saba before his show tonight at the Constellation Room to talk about making music that pushes his artistic boundaries far beyond ComfortZone.
OC Weekly (Patrick Montes): Initially, what made you want to decide to be a rapper for your career?
Saba: I had a really musical family. My dad did music, his dad did music. Both of their brothers did music. Early on, that was the first thing I was really exposed to as a career path. From then it just developed into a separate thing for me. None of them rapped, rap was the thing I got into. My big brother got me into certain records when I was small, like 8 or 9. Since then I built up a studio in my basement and I've just loved it and since then I've been pursuing it.
The first thing that I heard where I was like, "OK, I'm going to go and be a rapper now," was "Notorious Thugs" with Biggie and Bone Thugs. That was like, the greatest song ever; I couldn't believe it existed. We put it on repeat for hours. It was just new to me that music could sound like this. That was the same year I got a four-track cassette recorder for Christmas that year from my grandfather, and since then I've been adding pieces to my studio.
Did you go real deep into Bone Thugs and their music after that?
Yeah, after that I got into basically everything [Bone Thugs]. There's only like a few things that inspired me that strongly. One thing was my dad, because that was me first-hand witnessing music being made, music coming out, music being performed. Those are the first shows I had been to. He did more like neo-soul, R&B stuff.
With Bone Thugs, it kind of felt the same way. I discovered this music way late, but it was all so new to me. It had the singing and harmonies a lot of my dad's music had, and they were rapping in some cadences I had never heard. I couldn't understand half of it, which I actually thought was cool. That was what spoke to me when I was small. That was what inspired me the most.
With a lot of my music, the neo-soul influence is definitely there in my chord selection. That's all kind of from my dad. Learning to play the piano, having certain sounds like electric piano and synths and stuff all came from being exposed to that early on. A lot of my cadences and harmonies in general come from that Bone Thugs inspiration. It's basically like a gumbo where you mix up all the shit you learned over the years, and I'd say those are the two most important things I've learned.
Do you think there's something about soulful music in particular that rappers in Chicago connect with? Even rappers like Kanye blew up off that sort of sound.
Is it Chicago? That I don't know. But, even like a Kanye was inspiring. Just those instrument selections on hip-hop songs pushed the culture forward. Hip-hop was always frowned down upon solely because of the lack of musical input in a lot of hip-hop records. You got the sample, you got the drums, and that's a hip-hop record. That's tight, but a lot of people don't see it like that. They see it as stealing or something.
When Kanye came around, he did that, but he also added these other sounds and real piano players and strings and these orchestral sections. It pushed everything forward, and I think a lot of things that are possible now are due to that and him pushing it forward.
How do you think the follow-up to last year's ComfortZone is going to end up sounding?
That's what I'm trying to figure out now. I have an idea, but only time will tell with that one. I'm not going to announce a new project or anything like that until I'm really ready.
With ComfortZone, it introduced me to a new style of music to make. It's going to be fun now knowing what I'm capable of. Going forward, I'm just trying to push everything I introduced on ComfortZone forward and expand all of these sounds and all of these ideas.
That was one thing about ComfortZone: I had introduced the concept of it when I was 16, and the project didn't drop until I was 19. In that time, there were like three different drafts of ComfortZone and you can hear the maturity of the music as I mature as a person. There's different things to rap about, there's more meaningful writing, more meaningful music. The more life is lived, the more experience you have to put in your music. I'm a real personal rapper, and I rap about specific events that happen in life. The more it happens, the more ammo I have for songs.