It isn’t often that I review hip hop because it has never been the kind of music I enjoy listening to. Of course, I’d never write off a whole genre but I’ve yet to find a rapper or hip hop group that I could happily listen to for hours. However, it was suggested that I give 19-year-old Chicago rapper Saba’s latest offering a listen.
ComfortZone is his second release away from the rap collective Pivot Gang. Saba is known for aggressive delivery, intricate lyrics and high energy with a reputation for connecting with fans of all kinds of hip hop. Creating beats since childhood, he is a musician who has spent his young life dedicated to his art and that’s something that I wholeheartedly admire. Saba says his music is driven by “sexy space synths”, which certainly sounds promising!
The mixtape begins with TimeZone, a catchy track led by soft chimes and a gentle beat. A slurred bass electro voice and a smooth sax towards the end accompany female choral sighs. These backing vocals are a regular occurrence on the album and almost become a default setting in Saba’s soundscapes. Burnout channels it with the vocals of Eryn Allen Kane which give it a chilled R&B vibe. Quirky clicks and piano notes set the strong but relaxed tone which continues on Butter with Jamila taking over. The deep slurred voice is back as are the chilled synths. Jamila’s ethereal female voice pairs with Saba’s fast rap delivery to provide a contrast which seems to fit together perfectly. Altogether, you come away from it in a peaceful atmosphere with simple but pretty synth lines ringing in your ears. Welcome Home sees the return of the choral backing vocals, which is haunted by a constant drone. There is a soft gentle feel behind the darkness of the rap and the metallic rippling echoes give it a touch of magic, which continues to the fluttering end.
401K is a darker interlude to the otherwise incredibly relaxed album. The electronic beat with exotic moans creates another chilled-out setting but Saba’s aggressive rap flows over the top and gives it an edge and a sense of danger. It certainly stands out as a symbol of the high energy live performance that he is known for. For Y’all sees another appearance of Eryn Allen Kane and the arrival of MC Tree. The gentle piano is interrupted with a sudden strong beat and soft R&B vocal harmonies. Another catchy rhythm and Saba’s fast vocal delivery make it a firm favourite, as does its perfect blend of gentle R&B and emotional passionate rap. The synth injections at the end give it a firm memorable finish. Beginning with claps and whispers, Scum deals with a strong subject matter set to a relaxed rhythm and the pretty choral backing is there again. Catchy backing licks with an unexpected twist at the end keeps it interesting.
Saba then teams up with Benjamin Earl Turner on Westside Bound. Deep echoes, a staccato beat and desperation in the delivery push it along with heaps of energy. The sound itself is slow and simple and all the effort comes from the union of the rappers. Moving into another casual, dreamy track with Whip (Areyoudown?), Saba begins with slow spacey synths, lazy piano and slurred drawn-out vocals. It has a very catchy hook with quirky squawks halfway through that give way to slow guitar plucks towards the end. Westside Bound Pt.2 features a female French voice that sets the chilled sexy feel of the track. It has a chilled party vibe with a catchy rhythm and simple steady beat. The synth work is atmospheric and the soft piano at the end mixes well with the jittery beat.
Yet more of Saba’s simple magical sound is heard on Marbles, which sees the chimes and solid beat repeat underneath his angsty rap. LEGIT enter the frame on the atmospheric and haunting Comfort Food. The first part is sleepy and dream-like with the repeated line “just look at the stars”. Almost as if two songs have been welded together, it then morphs into a jazzy electronic mix full of moog sounds and a beat that gives it a confused, scattered feel.
One of my favourite tracks is Tell You, which has a soft melodic piano, electronic spurts and a chilled-out summer vibe. Again it sounds like an R&B track from a few years ago but the violin blasts keep it original and fresh. Keeping it carefree and youthful, it shows Saba as the fun-loving teen he is. Ending on United Center with Chandlar and Ken Ross, the album is wound down in much the same way. Piano ripples, a rumbling beat and a focus on the rap, which has a steady delivery. Chilled electro riffs and ghostly chimes send it to sleep as the album finally comes to a standstill.
Although I’m not a fan of the genre, ComfortZone was an album that appealed to me. I do love 90s and early 00s R&B and because of that, I was able to get into a few of the tracks. I can’t say that I loved it but it did have a few songs that I will probably listen to again such as For Y’all and Tell You. I’d say it’s definitely for fans of Chance The Rapper and other chilled out hip hop artists.