Album Review: Saba – Few Good Things

[Pivot Gang; 2022]

Saba is all about his people. It’s been almost 10 years since he began to help Chance the Rapper and Noname record Acid Rap and Telefone, two landmark projects that showcased a new generation of creative hip-hop artists from Chicago. Emerging from the same scene was Saba’s own West Side collective Pivot Gang, a musical group of family and friends that have since factored heavily into his work. Tragically, violence has interrupted the group’s plans more than once: member John Walt died in 2017, and member Squeak passed away just last year.

It makes sense, then, that one of the first tracks on Few Good Things is called “Survivor’s Guilt”. The song has an intense trap sound, which makes fellow Chicagoan G Herbo’s presence more than warranted, but stylistically it’s a bit of a red herring. This is ultimately a good thing, as Saba finds his groove over more mellow production. The influence of neo-soul can consistently be heard in many of the songs Saba produced himself, previous career highlights like “Photosynthesis” and “BROKEN GIRLS”. They also have a Brainfeeder-like style, with smooth clicks and pops, which continues to advance on this new record.

Few Good Things isn’t full of pain-laden eulogies, because Saba already made that album. If 2018’s CARE FOR ME was the sound of him openly processing his trauma, Few Good Things finds him appreciating the positives in life. “Come My Way” flips The Stylistics’ “You Are Everything” into a breezy jam that finds Saba matching the legendary speed of Krayzie Bone, who likewise delivers. It’s a fantastic track that sounds like Summer even in the dead of Winter, and sits nicely in a five-track run (“Fearmonger” to “Soldier”) that forms the heart of the album. 

“Still” finds Saba taking a step back from overly-deep messages: “I tried to be profound… but you can get lost in it”. Following with the assist is Smino, whose laid-back charm is a highlight. On “Simpler Time”, Saba comes across as genuinely loving: “In the morning I’m a mess, but waking up next to you makes it worth it.”

This low-key approach recalls Pivot Gang’s underrated album You Can’t Sit With Us, where Saba can be heard on every track. This collaborative effort leaned on humor and the pure joy of rapping, which worked to the group’s advantage. Joseph Chilliams brings those skills to Few Good Things with his standout “Soldier” verse, a fantastical portrait of life at war filled with punchy similes and references (like a clever Sean Kingston shoutout). That same track ends with a beautiful 20-second blip of a song that feels very Kendrick-inspired. This snippet may not be the album’s most original moment, but it sounds damn good.

On the closing title-track, Saba holds his own next to Black Thought, whose real hip-hop bars, accentuated with overly-lush production, feel a bit unnecessary. Add to that a meandering poetry-slam style outro, and it becomes clear that Few Good Things runs several minutes too long. Still, it’s a great project that reflects the headspace of an artist finding inspiration in the people and things that matter most.