When Saba released his critically acclaimed sophomore album Care For You in 2018, grief and mourning took center stage for the rapper born Tahj Malik Chandler. During its recording, the unspeakable weight from dealing with the tragic murder of his friend and fellow rapper John Walt was still fresh on his mind. In addition, Chicago was reeling from over 500+ homicides from gun violence and the loss of rapper Fredo Santana from a fatal drug overdose, while deep financial inequality widened the wealth gap even further during the Trump administration.
Four long years later, as artists fight for scraps in the streaming wars, the wealth gap has widened during the life-changing COVID-19 pandemic, and gun violence in Chicago hip-hop has grown worse. But even as Saba is in a familiar place — with the shocking loss of DJ/producer and local humanitarian SqueakPIVOT in 2021 — rather than focusing on trauma, he’s choosing to flip a brighter, more hopeful narrative of Chicago, while opening up conversations about modern capitalism and generational wealth with his new album and accompanying film Few Good Things.
Unlike the heavy-handed melancholy tone of Care For You, Saba’s Few Good Things is a lighter, more uplifting affair, but without sacrificing any of the urgency from its subjects — like the dangerous desperation from poverty and being responsible for one’s household (“Fearmonger” & the G-Herbo-assisted “Survivor’s Guilt”), the deep bonds of family (“2012”), and the importance of celebrating life at every turn (“Come My Way” with Krazy Bone). And the short film of the same name, written and directed by C.T. Roberts, brings to light Saba’s deepest motivations and how his dreams of making a better life for him and his loved ones.
“The concept of Few Good Things is the realization of self after a search for exterior fulfillment,” Saba says. “It is the satisfaction and completeness you gain by simply living a life that is yours.”
And even while the creative arts and music community of Black Chicago remains in shock behind the loss of Squeak and his uncle Darrion Hood, who both were fatally shot on Aug 17 in Chicago, Saba chooses to remember him in high spirits, especially in the heartfelt song about their brotherhood, “2012”.
“Squeak stood for everything we’re talking about. He stood on it. Squeak was really about community and that’s one thing that I was able to see from even just grieving and seeing how many people were affected by that loss. Squeak stands on this s–t, from doing his own events to helping anybody he knows,” Saba tells Billboard. As of the time of this article, there has been no further reporting on the case, and no arrests have been made.
Here, Billboard talks with the rapper about the messages from his new album and accompanying film, Few Good Things, what the legacy of the late SqueakPIVOT means to him, his thoughts on capitalism and poverty, and more.
Since your album is called Few Good Things, what are a few good things for you right now, despite everything going on in the world?
A few good things so for me right now [is] family, time, how we spend time, and peace. That’s a few great things to be honest. [Laughs.] It’s like how you said, with what we’re in right now with the world and everything, just finding comfort in whatever you can find it in. It’s such a thing I think we took for granted. So, I think, just finding comfort. Living in confidence [and] being sure of yourself. I’m always preaching confidence. Everything moves once you believe it’s gonna move.
How do you find that confidence?
It’s a wavering thing. Some moments it’s up, some moments, it’s down. The difference is milking those moments where you feel your most confident. That’s when I feel the most like myself. The version that I’d be thinking that I am? I just get unfazed, unmoved, you know? Unapologetic about going about my own way. But you know what I think? I think it’s being in tune with a younger version of yourself. I always think about how we come into this world, hella confident, hella sure of ourselves. When we’re a kid, we’re like, now [we] want to wear the green bow tie. I think the more time we spend on this planet, the more that gets shrunk by people telling you what you can and can’t do, by people telling you who to be and not to be.
I try to stay in tune with a younger version of myself — because that n—a is confident as f–k! On this album and over the last few years, I’ve just been trying to focus on instead of trying to run away and shy away from who he was going to become, just trying to encourage him to become that.
What was your favorite memory of your friend and DJ SqueakPIVOT before he passed away?
We did a show once, it was probably like, four hours in total. N—a stood on stage, the whole show. He DJ’d for [the] opener, the second opener, the direct support to him and I’m just like, “You don’t gotta pee or nothin’?” [Laughs.] And, I mean, we’ll sit there, the whole sound will be on stage the whole time and soundcheck all of that. When I think of my friends and how we ended up in the circle, how we come from different walks of life, what we share is the genuine connection and love for this [music] s–t. He loved music the way I love music. That’s what Squeak really stood for.
And the crazy part is I played this whole album for him before he died — and thinking back, it’s beautiful, because he heard this album, and there was a song on it that was dedicated to a lot of the time that I spent with him called “2012.” And I didn’t have to wait until his passing to write that song. I love that I got to share that moment.
At a time where the negative effects of capitalism are impacting so many people, like you portrayed in the accompanying film, it’s hard for a lot of people and artists to find their inner child while still being burdened by financial challenges. Do you feel like that can hinder that — and how do you balance that with making money?
That’s a tough question — because that’s the key to it, right? To be tapped into who you are and what you think. You need the time to think. And [finding] the time to think is definitely a privilege. The less money you have, the less money you’re able to think. That’s the problem that needs solving.
Now I don’t know if I have the answers to that problem. We can all pose a question, but I never sought out to be someone you go to for the answer. I’m a part of the noise. The general populace that’s looking at this s–t like, something’s wrong here. [Laughs.] Me, you, and every Black person walking this planet can recognize that there’s a problem.
In the film and on the album, how was it important for you to interview your grandfather and what did you want that to convey?
Those questions have been on my mind for years. I was just thinking about everything that we face, the adversity, all the s–t that comes with just being black in America. I was thinking, “Ain’t nothing I’m experiencing that granddad hadn’t experienced to some degree.” When it comes to just feeling safe and protected and you can get home, and things like that. When he moved to Chicago, he was 10, 11 years old. He told me all types of stories about motherf–kers chasing him home and doing all of this wild s–t. But this is a reality for us. And hearing his perspective, on some generational s–t, I wanted to hear it. I wanted to hear his story.
Some of those stories that’s in that movie and on the album, those were my first-time hearing those. It connects with the music in a way that’s just not something that only I’m thinking about. He thought about it. Mama thought about it, everybody gotta think about a lot of this s–t I’m talking about.
Generational wealth has been a focus for you lately. With the way rappers these days are heavily into capitalism, while your friend and rapper Noname opposes all of it, where do you personally stand? Especially as you talk more about generational wealth?
I think my sweet spot is in the middle of both. [Laughs.] I think it’s necessary. We as rappers, as artists in general, we’re privileged. We’re able to — for some of us — break generational curses. We’re able to provide for our families and we’re able to do s–t that a lot of people just couldn’t imagine, living their day to day. It’s such a challenging situation because it’s like, we didn’t break it. Why is it up to us to fix it? That’s how it feels a lot of times.
I just think in terms of whose responsibility it is to fix this s–t, it’s hard to really say. We’re just doing the best we can. And I think rappers are the same way. And I know a lot of rappers will go about it in a way that feels maybe not as authentic — but those rappers are also taking care of hundreds of people. I think it can be gone about a different way, maybe, but who am I to say? I don’t really give a f–k what other n—as is doing in the first place.
This year is the 15th anniversary of Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool and I know how much his journey influenced you. How did his publicized struggles with his former record label influence how you move in the industry?
More than anything, that scares me a little bit — because being an artist is frustrating enough! I go through my own frustrations and my own s–t without having there be a motherf–ker over me telling me what I can and can’t do. So, I get it, especially at that time, because it wasn’t a whole lot of [artists] who were able to get to that next level, doing s–t themselves. But you gotta look out and just assess the situation and understand that as best as you can.
I remember as a big Lupe fan, when I was in high school, when I started to see some of the s–t that was going on with him and [Atlantic Records], it stuck with me, and it made me feel frustrated as a fan that somebody could make decisions and somebody’s above the art. That was frustrating to watch. But he still gave us some crazy music, even with his situation. So, I think it’s always like I say: Chicago mothaf–kas be resilient. I think when I look at a career like if there’s anything to take away it is that resiliency, you know, I’m saying it’s like, we you know, we might come down we ain’t out.
He’s a obviously a big inspiration of mine, just being authentic an n—a from the West Side, because he didn’t try to mask who he was… He might be one of the most slept on rappers of this generation, but a lot of people gained a lot of influence from him. Not just Chicago artists, but worldwide artists look at him as somebody who really pushed this s–t forward.