Smoke a blunt with Beyoncé? In-N-Out and chill with Kylie Jenner? A bucket list can be many things to different people, but at its core it is a personal inventory of the things you wish to accomplish before you . . . well, kick the bucket. After all, many of us find it difficult to confront our waning mortality and feel, oh, perhaps a slight pressure in estimating our potential legacy given what time we have left to live.
For Chicago rapper Saba, though, that’s all a bunch of bullshit.
The hip-hop artist independently released Bucket List Project just over a month ago and it quickly slid into #1 on the hip-hop/rap iTunes chart. Among the playful responses to the prevailing question of what is on your bucket list, Saba also approaches the theme from many angles in the new release, shedding light on the act of reaching, and showing how that which you reach for comes from within.
Born Tahj Malik Chandler, Saba is a founding member of Pivot Gang, a group of independent Chicago rappers from the Austin neighborhood of Chicago’s Westside. With a deep background in music (both his father and grandfather were musicians), the artist passed out mixtapes in high school while cutting his teeth performing at after-school open mic programs around Chicago. His story and experiences proved to be a cornerstone for the autobiographical album.
As of late, Saba’s fingerprints seem to be everywhere, featured on such lauded Chicago-born mixtapes as Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap and Coloring Book, Noname’s Telefone, and Joey Purp’s iiiDrops. If you follow Chicago hip-hop, chances are you’ve heard Saba’s influences in some shape or form.
Bucket List Project provides a spectrum of existential musings about what is the stuff of life. Tacked onto the tracks are skit-like voicemails and monologues from collaborators and loved ones describing what is on their bucket lists, which range in gravity of subject and length, defying the notion that any two lists could or should be the same. Among these cameos, Chance the Rapper and Lupe Fiasco make an appearance, as does Saba’s father.
Rich harmonies and volume swells in the album, exemplified in tracks like “Church / Liquor Store,” providing an ethereal soundscape over which Saba and Noname build with poets’ sensibilities. The two don’t just perform a song on the subject, so much as they shove you onto a seat of a CTA bus as you watch gentrification dissipate into abandon in their sonic portrait of a Chicago block.
The end product is emotionally poignant and delivers a perspective that’s both resonant and nostalgic. The album also features new-school Chicago rappers doing what they do best: redefining real. Saba says the project is “antifear driven,” using vulnerability and brains as a means to achieving the want-it-get-it lifestyle.
So what is on Saba’s bucket list? In the short cinematic promo released for Bucket List Project, Saba jokes about his wish to paint while watching Bob Ross, or to play a game of twenty-one with Tracy McGrady. His more sobering answer concerns the fact that the Bucket List Project is about “unlearning fear.” Saba’s album pivots on the individual’s ability to define his/her own reality; the first utterance on track one is to “turn an obstacle obsolete.”
Check out Saba play the first Bucket List Project show on January 6th at Lincoln Hall.