Saba’s cousin was stabbed to death in Chicago after a brief scuffle on the train. The way Saba raps about his cousin—born Walter Long Jr. —you’d think he was magical, kissed by fortune his entire life. He was Saba’s mentor, his wingman, dauntless and deathless until, suddenly, he wasn’t.
To be young is often to be fixated on your own presumed indestructibility. Saba’s gorgeous, meditative new album, CARE FOR ME, begins with him singing the words “I’m so alone.” Isolation and trauma go hand-in-hand when you lose someone close, especially when that someone served as your shield for so long. “Jesus got killed for our sins, Walter got killed for a coat,” he raps. “I’m tryna cope, but it’s a part of me gone and, apparently, I’m alone.”
CARE FOR ME processes grief and its attendant loneliness, the paradox of feeling secluded during the most connected era in history, and having to manage that misery inside the social gratification matrix. So much of CARE FOR ME is an ongoing conversation trying to reconcile a cruel, unforgiving world with God’s plan. “FIGHTER” is submerged and glassy, its watery sheen glistening like it’s catching sunlight; Saba surfaces from this shimmer as if cresting in a wave pool. “It’s harder to love myself when all these people compliment me,” he raps, conflicted. It’s brutal moments of vulnerability like this that make CARE FOR ME such an enveloping experience.
Saba’s stunning exploration of loss builds to a restorative climax: the one-two punch that is the dewy-eyed odyssey “PROM / KING” and the skyward-bound drifter “HEAVEN ALL AROUND ME.” His writing is so dense yet free-flowing, so delicate and tactile. The drums crescendo into a frenzy on “PROM / KING,” to the point that Saba keeps his own time, untethered to rhythm, while never missing a single beat. The song is devastating, but it would feel almost hopeless without “HEAVEN,” a glowing conclusion to the saga that imagines a reborn Walter ascending to a better place, looking down and after Saba. It’s a remarkably powerful scene, a moment where Saba comes to realize that, despite everything, he was never alone and he never will be.